Cosmetology Department expands career training programs

Students gain salon experience and business management skills

Monica de la Cruz, Managing Editor

April 18, 2018

As spring graduation approaches, a small number of San Diego City College students (16 percent, according to SDCC Factbook 2017) are preparing to advance their career through vocational degrees and career training certificates. Among this group is Amy Biljan, a cosmetology student who is just weeks away from taking the California cosmetology license exam and beginning a career as a hairstylist.

A year ago, Biljan had no practical salon experience. After years of feeling stuck in the restaurant industry, she came to study cosmetology, as she said, “to help people, to transform how they think about themselves and to help them be who they want to be.” Today she is close to completing 1600 applied skill hours through the cosmetology program, and ready to enter the beauty industry.

Biljan reflected on her growth through the program, remembering how nervous she was when she graduated from working on dolls to cutting hair for her first real client. Since then, she’s gained confidence and expanded her portfolio through the on-campus salon, and at cosmetology events serving the San Diego community, such as Comic Con International, Stand Down for Veterans, The Women’s Expo, and more. With a wide smile, she said, “This program really prepares you for everything. I’m just so excited to get out there.”

Biljan is just one example of the success seen in the rapidly expanding Cosmetology Department. When Sudie Phillips began as head of the department, there was just one cosmetology degree program offered. Phillips said, “in the matter of just three years, we made cosmetology for day, cosmo evening, esthe[tics] day, esthe evening, nail [tech] day and evening, and now we’re adding a barber conversion program this fall.” The department now serves more than 300 students, with 65 to 80 new students starting every eight weeks.

City College’s program has been attracting students with variety of advantages over competing private cosmetology vocational programs, including a consistently high pass rate for the state licensing exam, low cost of attendance, and transferable college credit courses that provide students a well-rounded education and marketable skills.

Phillips shared many examples of successful cosmetology alumni, from estheticians working under doctors in dermatologists offices, to owners of high-end skincare boutiques and hair salons across San Diego. A common thread among the stories are students who have ambition and a love for their work, matched by a strong educational foundation.

Phillips introduced a current esthetician student, Kameal Thomas, who is passionate about studying holistic skincare, while also pursuing a degree in accounting. Thomas considered other different esthetics schools, but found the other programs were limited to skincare training, where at City College, she said, “they’re trainers, but they’re also teachers, which I think really helps with the learning environment… you get the best of both worlds.”

Professor Phillips stressed the value of the department’s academic-based instruction taught by professors with advanced degrees, not just cosmetology licenses. “When [professors] have that level of education, their expectations and the way they teach the materia is college level, not vocational.” Phillips said she rejects the department being labeled a ”vocational program” or a “beauty school.” Instead, their programs emphasize reading comprehension, communication, science and math– skills that are essential for students to manage their business after graduating. Under the leadership of Dean Rose LaMuraglia, the Cosmetology Department created an associate’s degree in cosmetology which integrates business courses, and is currently developing a similar degree for esthetics.