In case you still need proof that for-profit trade schools aren’t real schools — at least, not in any traditional, academic sense of the word — I give you this:
Tonight, two of our senior students, Becky and Leslie are both scheduled to hit their 600 hour mark. We watched them take their state board practical exam last week, which is the big final exam you have to do to graduate. It’s run exactly like the actual state board exam, on the theory that if you can pass it here at Beauty U, you’ll do fine on the real thing. All the other students watch and there is absolute silence. Leslie’s hands were shaking as she simulated an arm wax using honey and Becky kept chattering to me as she did the makeup application and went totally wide of the mark with the lip liner, giving me that plastic pageant queen kind of smile. But they both passed. And at 10 PM tonight, they will be done with Beauty U.
So when we take break, Miss Stacy slips off to the staff room and brings out an Entenmann’s carrot cake that she picked up at Shop-Rite, plus a handful of plastic spoons.
“I was going to make them cupcakes, but I forgot,” she confesses to me as I help her hunt up some paper plates that someone abandoned in the break room.
They are orange and say “Happy Thanksgiving!” in purple script.
We stand around Becky and Leslie, spooning soggy cake into our mouths. Leslie is allergic to nuts, as it turns out, and carrot cake has nuts, so I eat her piece for her.
The break room is tiny, really more of a hallway between the salon and classroom areas. It has two vending machines, a bulletin board covered with notices reminding us to pay tuition on time, and never enough stools for everyone to sit down. Tonight it smells strongly of someone’s over-microwaved Lean Cuisine.
I ask Becky if she’s happy to be graduating. “Counting the minutes,” she says, glancing at her watch. Becky already works in a fancy spa a few towns over, as a licensed nail tech and is adding her esthetics license so she can double her pay, from commission on $30 pedicures to $65 facials. So she’ll contribute in a positive way to Beauty U’s promised 95 percent job placement rate, since she already had her job when she started.
Leslie is getting ready to move out of state, which means she’ll have to take her state board exam here, and then apply to have her license transfer, or take that state’s exam too. I’m not sure if Beauty U bothers to track stats on students who move away.
Around us, people are checking their cell phone messages and fighting with the vending machine for sodas. “It’s weird we’re done,” says Leslie.
Then the receptionist pokes her head around the corner. Becky’s 8 PM eyebrow wax has arrived. We dump the half-eaten carrot cake in the trash and stick the unused spoon in the miscellaneous pile of plastic cutlery and ketchup packets that exists in every workplace break room everywhere. Break is over.
When you graduated from college, high school, or heck, even middle school, you probably enjoyed some degree of fanfare: Cap, gown, speeches, diplomas, pomp, circumstance. Here at Beauty U, where we have rolling admissions, your randomly-assigned graduation day is just everyone else’s Thursday. But I don’t know why there isn’t more to-do. Your graduation date is written on your student ID card and it’s the date by which the school figures out if they’ll get to bill you extra for going over hours, so it’s carved in stone in everyone’s minds. And it’s not like Beauty U is anti-fanfare; every month or two, they pass out awards (paper certificates and free products) for students with perfect attendance, and once a week, we have to give a round of applause and a pair of spa sandals to the student who has done the most upselling.
Maybe it’s that those celebrations have to do with us contributing to Beauty U’s bottom line. Whereas graduation means you cease to be a paying customer or profit-earning upseller.
And in fact, your graduation day might not even be the day you think. As we’re leaving for the night, and Becky is giving everyone a farewell kiss on the cheek, Miss Susan tells Leslie that they recalculated her hours and oops, she’s still only at 598.
After ten months of 16 hours per week, 75 facials, 25 makeup applications, and so many waxing and body treatment services that you officially lose count, she’s still not done. And it will cost her an extra $13 per hour to finish out. On Monday, Leslie shows up at 6 PM and knocks out one last facial while the rest of us are in the classroom, reading Milady’s.
By the time we get back from break, a little after 8 PM, she has already left, this time slipping out the back door without any more goodbyes.
[Photo of sad, half-eaten Entenmann’s cake via Flickr.]