BIG RAPIDS — Cosmetology students at the Mecosta-Osceola Career Center are one step closer to being able to apply for financial aid to complete their program. MOCC administrators recently received word they had been granted post-secondary accreditation for their cosmetology program.

“This process was born out of a question we had a few years ago in regards to our cosmetology students and how some cosmetology schools could offer financial aid and others couldn’t,” explained Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District Superintendent Steve Locke. “We looked into that and found one of the first steps is you have to be post-secondary accredited. Since no ISDs or high schools are accredited in the state, it was really quite the challenge for us.”

Locke said the accreditation means more opportunities for students who could use help affording their courses.

Currently, cosmetology students return to the career center after graduating high school to complete their program. This extra time is known as the 13th year, and students pay tuition based on how many hours they have remaining in the program, according to Linda Ward, MOCC Career and Technical Education Extension Services supervisor.

Gaining post-secondary accreditation for this program means students may soon be able to earn financial aid to help cover the costs of the program. Locke said the next step for administrators is working with the state legislature or Michigan Department of Education, or both, to be recognized as a post-secondary institution in order for students to receive financial aid. With the accreditation, students should be able to apply for scholarships.

To become accredited, the MOCC was entered into a candidacy phase, Ward said.

“We had to do a self-study — taking each piece of the school, the curriculums, the programs, everything that is offered and making sure it is relevant, it meets the mission of the career center itself, that we are basically doing what we say we are doing in terms of making sure the students complete the program and we work really hard on placing the students,” Ward said. “Once we completed the self-study, a visiting team came and looked through the entire self-study, all of our records, all the data we had.

“From there, they made recommendations for changes. We made those changes and went before the Commission of the Council on Occupational Education and they approved us to become accredited.”

The award of accreditation is based on an evaluation to demonstrate the institution meets not only the standard of quality of the commission, but also the needs of students, the community and employers, according to a press release.

“Through this process, we were vetted against those standards and the council did indicate we are indeed up to where we needed to be — the qualifications, the rigor, the record-keeping, the way we manage technology and resources and accountability, the placement for students, the pass/fail rate, all those things met the standards as defined by the council,” Locke said. “Being the first ISD, to my knowledge, in the state as a post-secondary institution is a pretty cool honor.”