PJ’s College of Cosmetology, headquartered in Carmel, Indiana, educates students for exciting and rewarding careers in the beauty industry. Cosmetology, aesthetics, nail technology, and skincare as well as instructor training programs are offered at the twelve campuses located throughout Indiana and Kentucky. Graduates of PJ’s College of Cosmetology have their pick of in-demand careers in the beauty industry, including hairdressers, beauty salon managers, nail technicians, salon owners, manufacturer reps, estheticians and more. But what sets PJ’s apart from other beauty schools is its multifaceted approach to providing state-of-the-art, innovative cosmetology education and outreach that serve both the rural and metropolitan communities in Indiana and Kentucky.
Understanding the challenges of keeping students engaged in today’s connected world, PJ’s pairs traditional hands-on training with the technology platform Pivot Point Lab®. Each student receives a tablet loaded with Lab software which offers online lessons, quizzes, resources and even sharing tools that encourage students to show off their work and engage with the cosmetology community. In the classroom, the student-to-teacher ratio is kept purposefully low. While most college classes have twenty students, at PJ’s, the student-to- teacher ratio is eight to one. Focusing on a smaller student body allows the instructors to provide more attention to each student and keep them engaged throughout the program. Judy Stewart, Chief Executive Officer of PJ’s Cosmetology, adds:
“Students really need attention today. They’re in the tech world: If they want something, they want it fast. To keep our students motivated, we need to have staff but we also need to be creative.”
Outside the classroom, student involvement is highly encouraged. Whether it’s raising money for supplies for local schools or offering free haircuts for back-to-school events, PJ’s students serve their communities while honing their own skills. Nemie Paden, Enrollment Specialist, says students appreciate this approach:
“We have students who have gone to big schools but then come to PJ’s and are so happy to be here because it feels more like home. They get more interaction with the instructors and the director, and there’s more attention to detail and activities so the students don’t get lost in the shuffle. That’s why we have four schools instead of one in a metropolitan area.”
Seven of PJ’s schools are currently accredited with the COE and five more are seeking accreditation.
The effort to achieve and maintain accreditation is an ongoing one and it does not stop when class is in session. There is no room for procrastination or overlooked deadlines. Even while PJ’s teachers are busy instructing students or supervising patron haircuts, they must maintain accurate documentation and meet deadlines for submitting it. It’s a cultural shift for any institution. Judy Stewart describes it best:
“We have always felt that improving our schools is the best thing to do. And, of course, accreditation has standards. At first, the standards are very difficult and hard because we have to learn how to answer to them and how to be responsive to them. But as you go on, you become familiar with the standards and they become part of your day-to-day activities.”
To ease the burden on its staff and coordinate the schoolwide effort, PJ’s has a designated staff member who ensures nothing slips through the cracks:
“Today, we have weekly and monthly checklists to make sure that every school abides by COE standards. A staff member sends out reminders, appointments and projects. We have the pattern down, and we know what we need to prepare for. We understand that you just can’t let your to-dos build up.”
The COE Accreditation Process
COE team visits tend to be short: Most take only a few days, but it’s the preparation for those visits that takes years of disciplined documentation. In addition to weekly and monthly checklists, PJ’s forms self-study groups for each standard. The purpose of the self-study portion of the accreditation process is to examine an institution’s qualifications for accreditation through a comprehensive self-evaluation conducted by institutional personnel. It’s also a discovery process during which the groups identify areas that need improvement and devise a plan for implementing changes. Once a formal write-up of a standard is complete, it goes through another round of internal review and revisions. Arlena McClish, Financial Aid Director, sums up this undertaking:
“We have many people who provide input and are involved in this process: PJ’s faculty and employees, advisory committees, students and graduates. Every person participates and helps us overcome any challenges we may have, voice what we are doing well, and contribute to making improvements and enabling students to be more successful.”
A team visit may feel intimidating at first, but it’s a rare chance for an institution to show off its facilities, faculty, students and years of hard work. It’s also an opportunity to learn from peers who’ve likely gone through a similar process at their own institutions. Judy Stewart adds:
“The visiting COE members understand the industry and are very thorough. They have left us some good advice on how we can do things better and how we can improve.”
In addition to preparing for visits, PJ’s always sends two to three representatives to COE’s annual meetings. Meetings are informational and interactive: You can mingle with representatives from other institutions and exchange valuable information. Arlena McClish:
“At meetings, we get to learn from other people. If someone likes how we do something, we share our ideas with them and provide advice, and they do the same for us. It makes us grow into stronger schools because we are learning from each other. It’s a community effort to keep us all excelling.”
To keep institutions up-to-date, COE supplements annual meetings with classes, webinars and newsletters. If the government implements new rules, institutions are made aware of how to prepare for the changes. Judy Stewart appreciates this proactive approach:
“It is very nice to have an accrediting agency that you can call. Just recently, the Kentucky law changed, and I had some concerns about how to deal with that. All I had to do was make a call to Mrs. Schooler, and she provided me guidance on how to handle the changes. We think accreditation is wonderful.”
PJ’s College of Cosmetology is focused on ensuring its graduates are job ready. Job placement rates are between 90 to 100% and PJ’s even offers lifetime placement services for graduates. Arlena McClish says they often help graduates who wish to switch jobs or move to another state (licensure requirements can differ). Many graduates go beyond the traditional beauty salons and spas, working alongside physicians at medical offices, creating avant-garde looks for photo shoots and television, and traveling the country as representatives and educators for well-known beauty brands.
The students not only receive the training they need to pass the state exam and become licensed, they also learn the soft skills that can help them gain confidence, increase their marketability and excel at interviews. The faculty works closely with local salons to coordinate visits so that the students become acquainted with spas and salons where they may eventually be employed. Students learn how to present themselves, prepare interview questions, and talk to salon staff. Judy Stewart says graduates also return often to share their progress and knowledge: “We love to keep hearing back from them. We love to have them come talk to our current students and brag about how they’ve been successful.”
As an Enrollment Specialist, Nemie Paden sees firsthand how important it is to discuss results and accreditation with incoming students and their parents:
“They want to talk about the outcomes and know who accredits us. It is important that we are able to share with them that we are accredited and we have to follow standards. I tell students: ‘You, as a student, will be graded on everything you do here: your tests, your practical evaluations, your haircutting abilities, and other skills. We also set the standards high for us as a school. We get graded as well, and we take that seriously.’ We will reach for the stars for the students, so that we can make the school better and make the students successful.”