Education entrepreneurship provides many opportunities for creative expression. Filling out the annual application for postsecondary career school licensing is not one of them.
I almost cry when the packet comes in the mail each spring.
The first time was the hardest, in 2011. I had launched my school, Faces Etc of MN, four years earlier as a Minneapolis training center for beauty professionals serious about careers in makeup artistry.
The Minnesota Office of Higher Education hardly paid attention. They treated me like a piano or karate instructor giving in-home lessons. But the level of scrutiny spiked when I decided to formalize my enterprise as a postsecondary career school to better reflect my mission and to validate the hard work of my students.
The state then wanted a course catalog, financial records, inspection reports, proof of insurance, policy statements and audit letters. Universities have finance, accounting, human resources and legal offices to gather this data. I had me.
When I asked the state for guidance, regulators told me to read the statutes and figure things out. It took hundreds of hours. When I was not in the classroom teaching, I was working on the packet.
The Minnesota Board of Cosmetology also got involved — not to help, but to oppose me. I was plugging a hole in the state-mandated beauty school curriculum, which skips makeup artistry almost entirely. So industry insiders felt threatened, and used their influence with the board to challenge me.
The Office of Higher Education and Board of Cosmetology were just two of the many government entities I had to deal with as a small-business owner in Minneapolis. County and city agencies also have zoning, fire safety, health, sanitation and business licensing requirements, with dozens of steps to win approval.
No one could tell me what all the process entailed, how long it would take or how much it would cost. Cities Work, a consulting initiative from the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm, dug into the codes to assess the regulatory burden for certain business types.
The researchers did not look specifically at trade schools. But they determined that Minneapolis restaurant owners must fill out 18 forms, interact with 14 agencies, complete 10 in-person activities and pay 14 fees totaling $13,973. The overall process involves 69 steps. Opening a Minneapolis barbershop requires 58 steps. And opening a Minneapolis bookstore is 32 steps.
This is too much.
Small-business owners drive the economy. They create jobs, pay taxes, and provide valuable goods and services. My own business has created value for my community in surprising ways. Most of my students are homegrown. But many come from neighboring states or other countries. Some have come from as far away as Ecuador, Pakistan and China.
They spend money in Minneapolis. And when they graduate, they literally make the world a more beautiful place. Instead of giving small-business owners a hassle, cities should do as much as possible to support them.
A Minneapolis website, unavailable when I launched my business, shows the city's commitment to reform. The online portal lays out step-by-step instructions for entrepreneurs. Yet kinks remain, and other reforms are necessary. Fees are still too high. Delays are still too long. And processes are still too complex.
I have seen progress over the years. But my heart still fills with dread when my school's license renewal packet comes in the mail. Teaching is rewarding. Spending two months filling out paperwork is not.
Debbie Carlson is the founder and owner of Faces Etc of MN in Minneapolis.