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Are Pell Grants for Beauty Schools Stimulating the Economy?

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Melissa McCurdy says she is pursuing her dream thanks to taxpayers. Melissa McCurdy says she is pursuing her dream thanks to taxpayers.
About $1.2 million in federal grant money goes to CC's Cosmetology College East Tulsa Campus each year. About $1.2 million in federal grant money goes to CC's Cosmetology College East Tulsa Campus each year.
Stimulus funding is increasing the amount of Pell monies each student could qualify for. Stimulus funding is increasing the amount of Pell monies each student could qualify for.
Ninety percent of CC's cosmetology students' educations are paid in full by grants. Ninety percent of CC's cosmetology students' educations are paid in full by grants.

By Jennifer Loren, Oklahoma Impact Team

TULSA, Oklahoma -- Millions of dollars in federal stimulus money could be going to your local beauty school.

As far-fetched as it may sound, millions of federal stimulus dollars are going to Oklahoma cosmetology schools in the form of Pell grants.

Melissa McCurdy is a mother and a wife. She's also a full time student, working to become a cosmetologist. She said she wouldn't be in school if it weren't for federal Pell grants. Taxpayers are paying for her cosmetology license, and she said your money is going to good use.

"Because you're helping out other people. Without that assistance for low income families you wouldn't be able to get anywhere. There would just be so many people that would just be stuck," said cosmetology student Melissa McCurdy.

"Everybody has to have a haircut," said the owner of CC's Cosmetology College, Chiquita Carter.

Chiquita Carter is the CC of CC's Cosmetology College. She has campuses in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Carter said her mission is not just to educate, but to teach at-risk people to find success where they never have before.

"A lot of these folks have never finished anything," said Carter.

According to Carter, her students learn more than just cuts and color. She said her students learn professional development and life skills so they can put food on their tables for years to come.

"What we want to do is teach them how to feed themselves...and that's by learning a trade, a skill, a profession, where they can feed themselves," said Carter.

That is the theory behind a program under President Obama's stimulus act that will give more financial aid to low income students at any school.

In CC's financial aid office, students are being funneled into the stimulus program.

"Most of our students are fully funded, yes," said Hallie Biggs, who works in the financial aid office at CC's Cosmetology College.

Essentially the stimulus is just increasing the amount of money each student can get through Pell grants. Before, the most a student could qualify for was $4,850. Now, they can get up to $5,350. Biggs says there will be another jump in available Pell monies in July of 2010, bringing the total up to $6,980 per student.

At CC's that pays for everything and then some.

"I think it will open up a lot of doors for people who never had the opportunity to come to college because they had to go straight to work," said Biggs.

At CC's in Tulsa about 90 students graduate each year. Of those students about 90 percent of them have their educations fully funded by federal grants. At about $15,000 per education that's a total of more than $1.2 million at just that school.

But for some the question still remains: How is this stimulating the economy?

“Well if people go to school, they get jobs and then they have money to spend at Wal-Mart or to buy a car or whatever is needed to stimulate the economy," said Biggs.

Single mom and cosmetology student Stafalon Landrum proves her point. Her education is being paid for by Pell grants. Without them she would not be in school. Before school, she had no job. Now she hopes to graduate and open her own salon.

The stimulus grant money is awarded directly to people who are approved for Pell grants. It can be used at the school of their choice, not just cosmetology schools.

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