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Salt Lake Community College has announced plans to phase out its barbering and cosmetology programs, which are among the school's oldest and once popular vocational certifications.

But only a small portion of those earning SLCC's credentials in recent years are actually employed in the hair-styling profession and the program is costly to taxpayers, according to college communications director Joy Tlou.

The announcement came as a surprise to some instructors and students. Officials assured the 217 students already enrolled that the program will continue until they are finished, but won't accept new students.

"The college is absolutely committed to running the program for those currently enrolled," said trustees chairwoman Jesselie Anderson.

SLCC trustees discussed the move and endorsed it, according to Anderson, but the state Board of Regents has the final say. It is uncertain when they will act on the proposal.

"It was a very difficult decision, but a necessary one to keep Salt Lake Community College focussed on its mission," said President Cynthia Bioteau.

Four full-time faculty will see their positions phased out, but most are approaching retirement. Meanwhile, the school has started four new career-building programs, including ones in mortuary science and music technology.

School officials were concerned the cosmetology program was not helping students' employment prospects.

"These are jobs that [start at] $8 an hour. Should we be encouraging programs that we know that a number of people are enrolling in but wouldn't find meaningful jobs that would support a family?" Anderson said.

Another big driver for the decision is money. SLCC's cosmetology program brings in about $800,000, yet costs about $1.5 million. Community colleges routinely subsidize programs, but an added rub for cosmetology is next year's demolition of the administration building at the Redwood campus, in which the program is housed. This would mean finding new space and retrofitting it at a minimum cost of $1.2 million, according to Tlou.

SLCC has offered associate of applied science degrees, diplomas and certificates of completion in cosmetology and barbering.

Students interested in skin care, and hair styling and related occupations have many other options for training, Tlou noted. Programs are available at numerous for-profit schools in Salt Lake County, as well as at public Utah College of Applied Technology campuses in neighboring counties.