Across the state fewer beauty school students are successfully completing their programs, leaving many with mountains of debt and few options.
Only 351 of the 800 students registered in 2005 at a West Virginia beauty school ever went on to obtain a license to practice, according to data from the state Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists.
That's a 44 percent completion rate.
Figures from the 2010 class are worse. Of the 917 students registered at schools that year, only 314 obtained a license to work.
"Whenever we have less than four out of every 10 individuals who starts beauty school failing to complete, we have a problem," said Adam Higginbotham, barber board executive director.
To work as a cosmetologist or in other professions for which these schools offer training, a person must receive a license, Higginbotham said. Students are struggling to pass the tests required to obtain those licenses.
From August 2010 to July 2012, about 68 percent of students taking the licensure exam for the first time passed. Higginbotham said schools are expected to maintain a 70-percent passage rate: nine of the 16 schools examined were below that mark.
"What's the point of going into beauty school or barbering or nail technology if you don't get a license?" Higginbotham said.
Beauty school isn't cheap. Higginbotham said he thinks the average cost for a cosmetology program is $10,000, and he knows several schools in West Virginia that charge more than $20,000. To pay for that, many students borrow. .
The average beauty school student from 2005 to 2010 had about $7,000 worth of loans, he said. Multiply that figure by the number of students who did not complete their programs or return to a different school, and debt problems become obvious.
"We're looking at $17.5 million in five years that would have been loaned to these students," Higginbotham said, adding the number is a ballpark estimate based on board data.
Data recently released by the U.S. Department of Education shows the Charleston School of Beauty and Huntington School of Beauty Culture - two of the larger beauty schools in the state - have student loan default rates above 40 percent.