Graduation at Clary Sage College.
Graduation at Clary Sage College.

MODERN SALON's Excellence in Education annual recognition program celebrates leading cosmetology schools, highlighting innovative programs and best practices in eight categories and two divisions (single location and multi-unit schools).The 2015 Excellence in Education honorees were announced October 24 at the American Association of Cosmetology Schools conference in Phoenix, Arizona. Among 38 schools recognized, top honorees were named in each category.

In this Excellence in Education Spotlight series, MODERN SALON connects with each of the top honorees to further explore programs and how schools are collaborating to develop the future of professional beauty. Here, a closer look at the 2015 top honoree in School Culture, single location.

At Clary Sage College in Tulsa, Oklahoma, students can hone in on their interests due to a wide offering of programs ranging from cosmetology to fashion design. A positive learning environment complements the courses and focuses on keeping students happy and healthy. 

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From the moment they walk in the door, students at Clary Sage College are connected to the school—the only school in the state of Oklahoma that offers every license under the Oklahoma State Board of Cosmetology and Barbering. This includes programs in cosmetology, barbering, hair-braiding technology, nail technology, esthetics, makeup artistry, master instruction, massage, fashion design and interior design.

“I think we are better able to refine our students’ interests,” Dr. Raye Mahlberg, campus director, says. “If a student wants to just do braiding and no haircutting, then that’s the program for her. We’re able to create a lot of specialties."

Students are also able to start the 20-week program every week. “If they’re interested in just one area, we can accommodate them and get them started right away,” Mahlberg says.

But no matter what program they enroll in, all students start their education with Clary Sage’s orientation course, Career and Life Development.

“The course is one week of high-performance skills—how to study and present themselves,” Mahlberg says. “Then there is a week of financial literacy—budgeting, credit reports, taxes. They also learn mobile technology and how it increases brand awareness. And they learn to market themselves digitally as well.”

In addition to this course and regular curriculum classes, Clary Sage also holds annual self-defense workshops, speakers on the topics of leadership and professionalism, and domestic violence intervention, and a Student Appreciation Day.

The college’s culture revolves around CARES (courtesy, accountability, respect, excellence and success) and starts from the first day students take the career and life-development class.

“We talk about it in admissions, too,” Mahlberg says. “And we recognize students who model our culture in the classroom weekly and monthly. We really hold them accountable to it. If they are disrespectful, I pull them in to talk."

One tradition that exemplifies the Clary Sage culture is the annual Scary Sage event around Halloween. This year, the college was expecting about 3,000 people to attend the spook tour complete with carnival games, face-painting and a costume contest for students showcasing hair and makeup.

“It’s a great recruitment tool for us,” Mahlberg says. “A lot of moms bring kids to the event and decide they want a new career—it gets people in the door.” 

And once they’re at Clary Sage, they see a thriving culture they want to join. “We expect excellence from all of our faculty, staff, and students, and this is reflected when prospective students tour our campus,” Mahlberg says.  

For other schools looking to refine their culture, Mahlberg advises thinking about the impact they want to make on the industry and how to achieve it.

“If you’re trying to produce polished professionals, expect it as part of your culture and students will live up to the expectation,” she says.

School Spotlight: Clary Sage College

Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma

Owner: Community Higher Education Incorporated

Established: January 2006

Average enrollment: 300

Best student perk: The variety of programs. Students can network with people in other programs, too. 

AACS member? Yes.

What is one big idea you've adopted from an AACS event or talking to another AACS member? “The best take-away this past year was information on gainful employment compliance,” Mahlberg says.

What's one major improvement that you're planning for 2016? “To increase the awareness that we are now a non-profit, and increase the student body,” Mahlberg says. “We also want to bridge the gap between classroom instruction and industry requirements.”

What schools or educators inspire you? “A lot of our cosmetology students recently went to a seminar by Sam Villa and were very inspired by it.”

What does your Excellence in Education recognition mean to you? “This is a huge honor,” Mahlberg says. “To us, it signifies we are the best of the best in this area. We have announced on social media and will be announcing again to students at our next honor-roll assembly.” 

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