Senior Acadia Ellis of Windham styles a mannequin’s hair at the Westbrook Regional Vocational Center. She plans to work in a salon after graduating from high school and then finishing up her cosmetology training. Chance Viles / American Journal

Westbrook Regional Vocational Center’s new cosmetology program, one of the first in the state offered by a public school, is up and running and on its way to making “a big impact for our students,” instructor Rebecca Buck says.

Students in the two-year program will each complete 700 hours of work that will count toward the 1,500 hours of training required for a state cosmetology license.

Cosmetology students work on their mannequins. They first cut the hair before working on styling. Chance Viles / American Journal

The program will save the students time and some money because they’ll have that head start and  won’t have to get all their hours in through a cosmetology school, instructor Rebecca Buck said. Tuition at Empire Beauty Schools in Portland and Bangor, for example, is about $17,500, according to the College Tuition Compare website.

The program became possible when the state Department of Health and Human Services last year took over the licensing and decisions on who can teach cosmetology, Westbrook Regional Vocational Center Director Todd Fields said. Before then, a private board was in charge of licensing and decisions, and the only options for training were through private companies.

Fourteen students are now enrolled in the program, which includes hairstyling, nail work and other salon services, but Field expects that number will grow to 30 students each year as more students become become aware of the new offering.

The program increases accessibility to the career field “and will also help the workforce,” said Buck, who has worked in cosmetology for over 28 years.


“This program, schools being able to offer cosmetology, is huge,” she said. “Salons are having a hard time finding stylists to stay open.

The high school-level programs are projected to add over 1,300 cosmetologists to the workforce by 2026, according to DHHS data provided by Fields. According to the data, there are now 33,574 cosmetologists across the state, he said.   

Cosmetology instructor Rebecca Buck at the salon at Westbrook Regional Vocational Center. The director hopes to open the salon to the public in the future. Chance Viles / American Journal

Acadia Ellis, a senior from Windham, said she has always wanted to work in the cosmetology field and the new program was a great opportunity for her to get her “hands dirty” before going to cosmetology school.

“My junior year I heard they’d make a program like this, and when it came up I jumped at the chance,” Ellis said.

Field said the program is diversifying Westbrook Regional Vocational Center’s students.

What we are seeing or want to see is that the cosmo program may be attracting students who normally wouldn’t go to a vocational center,” he said. 


Senior Kelly Bruns of Buxton said the program is what drew her to the school.

“I always knew of the center but nothing has stood out. This is my last year, so luckily I was able to attend and get a head start in the field,” Bruns said.

Instruction will focus on technique, Buck said, rather than just teaching skills required to pass the state licensing test.

“This is also a chance to really get that skill down. The state licensing test will have you doing certain things, but there are no requirements that the haircut for instance has to look good,” she said. “We strive to be the best.”

Next year, Fields said, he hopes the program will be able to offer haircuts and other services to community members at the Westbrook Regional Vocational Center salon, which was built and wired by other students in-house.

“That’s something we aim to do, sort of like how the culinary program provides meals for Rotary meetings,” he said.

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