universal licensing: closer
than we think?

Considering a move to another state? Wish you had a professional license that would be accepted in all fifty states? The concept of universal licensure offers that possibility, but will states change their laws to make that a reality? Susan Colard of the NIC, the predominant testing organization in our industry, describes new efforts to standardize licensure and increase portability through a national database and national credential.

Show Notes


National Interstate Council for State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC)


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Edited for length and clarity.


JAIME: Welcome to Outgrowth: A Slice of Pro Beauty with your hosts Jaime Schrabeck.

ASHLEY: And Ashley Gregory Hackett. Chances are you took an exam administered by the NIC to obtain your license, but the influence of the NIC on our industry goes far beyond testing.

JAIME: We’re joined by Susan Colard, the government relations and marketing director for the National Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology to discuss efforts to standardize licensure throughout the country. Let’s grow together.  

JAIME: Welcome to Outgrowth, Susan.

SUSAN: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.

JAIME: You serve as the government relations and marketing director for what we refer to as 

the NIC, but could you explain what NIC stands for?

SUSAN: Sure. So our official title is the National Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology, and oftentimes that can be misconstrued that it’s just for cosmetology, but it is for all the related professions.

JAIME: And is this a government organization or is it more like an association?


SUSAN: This is a nonprofit organization.

ASHLEY: Perfect. So if you could just briefly describe the history and the mission of the NIC.

SUSAN: Certainly, I’d be happy to. So the mission statement for NIC is to promote the protection of the health, safety, and welfare of the public and the professional workforce by actively pursuing excellence in cosmetology and related fields. And the history goes way back. So we started in 1929 when the National Council of Boards of Beauty Culture was established to develop some form of interstate exchange of ideas related to licensure reciprocity, examinations, and administration methods. And then in 1936, another group was formed which was called the Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology. And it was established to evaluate standards of beauty, culture, education, proper administration of state cosmetology laws, and the promotion of true professional service to the public. So when I went through those, you’ll hear the first group was called National Council of Boards of Beauty Culture and the second was the Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology. The two groups recognized fairly quickly that they had similar goals and in 1956, they decided to merge and they formed what is known today as the National Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology, for short, NIC. Then 13 years later in 1969, the new organization established the national exam program for licensing of cosmetologists and other fields. And then in 1990, NIC extended its examination program to include licensure examinations for barbers and barber stylists. And today, NIC’s national exam program is the predominant national examination for the licensing of cosmetologists, barbers, and all the other related fields throughout the United States and Guam. So that’s the history.

JAIME: That answered many of my questions about when the organization got together and when it first started providing examinations, because I think for much of our audience, that may be their only knowledge of your organization is it was the source of the licensure examination that they took.

SUSAN: It definitely has been around for a very long time.

JAIME: And do you provide examinations to all states or only those that have gone through some sort of process whereby they’ve entered into a contract with your organization?


SUSAN: Currently we have 38 states that utilize the NIC national exams and the majority of the states have licensure requirements that include education from a licensed school and if states prove they can have their education through an apprentice program. The, most states do require written and practical examination. And in regards to the question about process is a state will go through a process for what they call RFP, request for proposal, when they are looking for an examination vendor and we have several approved test administration vendors who monitor continually to see if there’s any open RFPs and they’ll bid on it if it fits the criteria that NIC exams can provide. And the established criteria is dependent on what the state has identified in their RFP, and our test administration companies will bid, and the states will go through a screening process to make their selection based on their bids received. Now that can include NIC that can include other test vendors who develop their own exams. And we hope that they’ll go with the national because it does promote portability and standardization, but that is the process that happens in order for a state to determine which exam vendor they’re going to go with.


ASHLEY: I’d love more info on what factors actually determine whether a state uses your examinations and what are some of the benefits and features of an NIC exam versus something else.

SUSAN: Well again, states will develop their RFP on what they would like to have from a vendor. And the majority of the states is that they’ve got their curriculums and they want to utilize an examination that will encourage individuals to be able to go state to state. But oftentimes when a state has just their own state specific examination, and that means that they’ve developed it right there in their state, many states will not accept that for reciprocal licensing. So for instance, a licensee could be in the state of Nebraska and they’re going to another state that has their own state specific. That next state is going to make them take their exam also. What happens with the national exam is a majority of the states do recognize NIC and they will allow applicants to utilize, if they pass the written and practical exams, that they will meet that licensure requirement moving state to state. So when they go through the process of defining what they’re looking for in an examination, it really is to ensure that it meets their own definitions in their laws and regulations that they have defined, but hopefully it is similar to the majority of the states going through it. We have 38 states onboard. We’re hoping to continue to grow that in order to promote the standardization. However, not all states are on board. I would say that in the way of features, NIC has been in the national testing business, like I said, since 1969 and we are very well known for our national written and practical exams. Our exams are developed utilizing psychometric principles that provide standardization and is legally defensible if challenged. And one of the main features is our national examination promotes portability of licensure. And we encourage individuals at any opportunity to try to take the national examination to see that they could have that on their record in order to move state to state easier.

JAIME: Years ago, and I don’t know how long you’ve been with the organization. Perhaps you can give us some background on when you first became involved. But years ago, I was attending state board meetings when NIC was making their case to have California use their exam, which is what ended up happening. And all these years later, we’re finding that as more states are coming on board, there seems to be this call for having what might be considered a national exam, one exam for it to fit everyone. And I don’t know how much customization there is state by state, for each exam.

SUSAN: I’ll answer your first part of your question first. My background is I’m from the state of Washington and I was a regulator for 20 plus years in the licensing programs over six diverse areas, and one of those being in the beauty professions. And so I have been going to the NIC conferences the most of those 20 plus years, and I’ve been involved on being an executive board member. I’ve been on several committees in the NIC. I’ve developed infection control documents and that was in my role as an executive director. It was voluntarily assisting to help promote the national standards. So in relation to the second part of your question, I think you were saying, how do we promote standardization? Or could you clarify that for me?

JAIME: Let me make that clear. How specific are the tests to the state’s regulations? How customized are they?

SUSAN: Well, you know, I’m not the expert on the exam development. That’s more of our psychometrics process that we go through. I wouldn’t say that they look at each state’s requirements. It’s what is the national standard for safe and sanitary practices in the industry and that is what their focus is on. They try to standardize that through our examination so that anyone who goes into any states has that understanding. And again, our exam is about minimum competency. This is for any individual who has graduated from school and/or apprentice program takes that national examination to show that they have the minimum competency to go out and start practicing on the public. So I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily focused on each state. However, we do work with our member states to accommodate if they have additional add-ons that are needed for their state and we will go take it through the psychometric process and we will approve those additional add-ons if needed.

ASHLEY: I would love to get into the nitty gritty of that, because I know that there are quite a few listeners as well as industry members who are very curious as to why we don’t yet have universal licensure or, at least, the removal of some of the obstacles to getting toward that result. If you could provide us any insight as to kind of what’s going on behind the scenes and maybe how we as individual licensees could help grease those wheels.

SUSAN: Yes. So you had mentioned that you attended our virtual seminar and you most likely heard about our national database and our national credential. A year ago, we had a large turnover in the leadership of the NIC executive board. And with that, they developed their strategic business plan to focus on exactly what you just talked about, and that is promoting universal licensure and standardization, and encouraging portability, and helping individuals who are coming from out of country, helping military and their families and out of country applicants. Through that, we recognize that there does need to be some type of a national credential. Our goal is that we’re in the process, in the development of both of those projects. So we’re talking national database, which will house all information. We will try to bring on states to see if they will share their data. And so that, for instance, Sally Smith is licensed and she has her records in this national database. She can request all of her information to be submitted to a state directly from NIC and a state can hopefully quickly process their reciprocity application because they have all the credentials in that one form. I can tell you in my experience in working in a state agency, when individuals are applying from, through the reciprocity or even from out of country or military, oftentimes they struggle with the delays from the states because of the amount of work that is in these offices and they’re are not able to get to them quickly. So we’re hoping that this national database will speed up that process. And then we also are working on this national credential and the vision of that is to show that they have a credential, shows they took and passed the national written and practical examination. We’re hoping states will accept this as a way for individuals to quickly get through the licensing process. Of course, each state has their own separate requirements other than the testing, but we’re hoping this will enhance that for them. And then again, I mentioned this will enhance portability and assist with barriers to entry for those individuals who travel across state lines, the military individuals and their families, and out of country. Currently, there are several states that have developed legislation that promotes universal licensure by amending their existing requirements. And that means that several states have said that if you are licensed in another state, you just need to show us that license and we will give you a license. That is really great because that speeds up the process. That doesn’t mean that an individual has to start from zero just because they moved into a new state, new application, new education, new exams. And so the push is, is really moving across the United States, within each state. And then we’re coming along with this national database and this national credential and we’re hoping that will assist with removing these barriers. And even though we’re not calling it universal licensure, it is in fact universal licensure.

JAIME: For marketing purposes, what are you calling it, Susan?


SUSAN: We’re calling it the national database and the national credential. But like I said, we’re really in the infancy stages of working with companies to go ahead and start the work on this.   And so we haven’t hit heavy on it other than those terminology is national database national credential, and that it enhances portability, and removes barriers.


JAIME: So with a national credential, we wouldn’t have to be concerned with the requirements of having held a license in good standing in a state for a particular number of years before getting licensure by endorsement for California. That, that’s an example.


SUSAN: We’re hoping. So this is going to take a lot of networking with states to ensure them that the information that we have is confidential. It is secure. It is accurate. And so we will have to work with every single state that we have to help them see what this brings to them. But that would be the long-term goal is that states would accept this as a way of licensure. But we do have to work with the states because many of them have their statutes and their rules currently don’t allow for this. And so in the next, I would say, six months that is going to be a really huge focus of mine is sharing this information with states in order for them to be able to make a good decision on whether they would support it or not. So what can the licensees do? Let your voices be heard. The more that we send this information out, feel free to ask questions, reach out to me. I’ll be happy to share it. Talk to your states. Once the information is starting to be released out there, and let them know that you support the concept, and there’ll be talking points that are provided that individuals can use to go forward to their own states and ask if this is an option for their state. So that’s how everyone can help us help make this successful.

ASHLEY: Now, as far as the national database, I assume that would be organized by license type or comparable license type across states. I’m wondering, if this is a true national database, will disciplinary info be a part of that database?


SUSAN: That is the goal. What we would like to see in there is that the information is active license and if there’s any disciplinary information that the states will be willing to share with us.  I don’t know if you’re familiar with the national nursing database. They do exactly what you and I are just talking about. They house information on licensees that shows when they were originally licensed, what states they have licenses in, which examinations they took and when,     how many hours they graduated from, and then any disciplinary action. So hopefully all of that information will assist states with being able to issue a license quicker.


JAIME: Will consumers have access to this database as well, and business owners?


SUSAN: Yes. Part of the goal is, again I’m going to refer to the nurse’s database, but they have options to where an individual can access one section. They can go in and say, I would like my information sent to this state for application for licensure. Another section is for employers that can come in and they can, for instance, if we have a Super Cuts, or a Great Clips, or one of the larger chains, they can actually go in there, and they can build a list, and they can list all their employees that they have on there. And oftentimes, big organizations like that will pay the renewal fee for each person that works for them. And so the goal is and the vision is is that these employers would be able to keep their list updated of whenever an employee comes on board and they would get a reminder of when the renewal is coming up. Now, this is separate from what the state would do because each state does have their own licensing renewal requirements. We’re not getting involved in that whatsoever. We’re just keeping their expiration date and a flag could be set up to go to an employer to say, Sally Smith’s license is going to expire in maybe two months. And then that will give the employer time to go ahead and get that paid for them. And again, it’s not just employers. It’s the individuals too. They would also get a reminder. By the way, your license in Ohio is expiring. You may want to reach out to your state.   So it really is developed to support licensees and businesses and to help them access information to ensure, especially for employers able to hire someone who currently does have a license and doesn’t have any disciplinary action.

ASHLEY: With a written examination in mind, how important is language access and will the NIC expand into additional languages for computer-based testing by the end of the year as was planned?

SUSAN: Let me give you a little bit of history with the language access. So historically NIC had provided the examination in English only, and approximately 20 years ago due to a high volume of requests from candidates and states, NIC added Spanish, Vietnamese, and Korean. And then in more recent years, states have received a large volume of requests from individuals coming to the United States from other countries who are trying to enter the workforce and the beauty  professions. In many cases, English is not their primary language and they struggled to pass the written examinations. So after these numerous requests from states, NIC agreed last year to translate additional languages for the written exams and those languages include Chinese Russian Arabic, German, Japanese, Tagalog. I know I’m saying that incorrectly. I’m so sorry. Hindi, Cambodian, Persian and Laotian. So those are all in the process of being translated and our plan was to have them completed by the end of the year 2020. However, due to COVID, we have encountered several delays in the translation process. And what that means is travel restrictions has created a barrier to obtaining qualified specialists who can participate in an in-person workshop. So we’re looking at other options. For instance, how we can accomplish this virtually without impacting the security of our exams. But it is a priority for NIC to have the additional translated exams available as soon as possible. We do have many, many individuals throughout the United States who are trying to enter into the workforce. They’re able to pass the practical, but they’re just not able to understand the English language as it’s not their primary.  We are probably three quarters through the process where we ran into those barriers without being able to have the qualified specialists in person, which is part of the psychometric process.

JAIME: I’m curious how much demand is necessary for a state to request an exam in another language.

SUSAN: You know, there isn’t a definite number. I would say that any state who is interested in having a language added is certainly welcome to submit that to us. And we would reach out to the state to ask some additional questions. You know, I can tell you in the past when Spanish, Vietnamese, and Korean came to be, I was involved in that, and I’m from Washington, and we had to show what the population was, how many requests there was. We had to give all that information to NIC because it is an added cost to NIC to go through the translation process. And, you know, you deal with diversity and dialects. There’s a lot of work that goes behind trying to find the most common dialect to provide this information. And so I would say it has evolved throughout the years where they don’t necessarily ask for that information no. The NIC doesn’t.   That, you know, what is the population? So you really in the past you had to justify what the need is and why, and these days it’s more about how we can accommodate individuals who are trying to enter the workforce and how can we support them. It would really be a case by case basis that we would talk to each state.

ASHLEY: I’m very curious as to what role advocacy plays in the work of the NIC, specifically the work of the government relations team within your organization.


SUSAN: So the government relations team was established last year and we use our national forum to continue to share information and encourage the best practices among the states and the other jurisdictions. The government relations team includes myself and a company that we have brought on to assist with that who has a lot of experience in dealing with national legislation. Our primary focus is to, of course, support the NIC leadership by monitoring proposed changes and additions to state legislation or regulations that affect the occupational licensing of cosmetology and related fields. One of our priorities is to continually monitor proposed legislation throughout the United States. We look at counter arguments from outside the professions. We look at state organizations focusing on occupational licensing and we also look at any proposed deregulation. The government relations team is available to work with states and associations to share national standards regarding education, consumer health, and safety. And our representatives, meaning myself and the other individuals on the team, are available to attend board meetings, association meetings, and legislative hearings. We’re always happy to come in and share best practices and to testify if needed. We also partner with national associations to collaborate and share the national standards as NIC has become a national repository for all states’ licensing requirements. In the last year, I’ve learned that many of the associations out there, I can say the AACS, which is for the cosmetology schools, we’ve just recently partnered so that we can address challenges that come up and we can collaborate together to help get the word out about promoting universal standards.

JAIME: Over the years, we’ve seen efforts to deregulate the beauty profession evolve from flat out, let’s yank the license, we don’t need a license to let’s roll back the number of hours that are required in order to obtain a license. How does the NIC position itself with these efforts?

Is there room for compromise?  


SUSAN: So we make every effort to promote standardization in the laws and regulations in the beauty professions. And just as a reminder, NIC’s mission is to promote the protection of the health, safety, and welfare of the public and the professional workforce. So we support the concept of streamlining requirements for efficiency purposes. However, our main focus remains on consumer safety. So when we are called on to respond to proposed deregulation, we share data collected throughout the United States and we provide that to legislative and agency leaders to help them make a better informed decision. So oftentimes, the legislators and/or lead agency leaders we’ll hear from industry who are very passionate about their industries, which is great. However, sometimes that passion isn’t the substantiated facts that the legislator and agency leaders might need. So what we do is we bring in facts and those facts are based on actual laws and regulations throughout the United States. And so they can see, for instance, if someone’s trying to remove an instructor license, we would come in and we would say, this is how many states issue an instructor license. This is the education that they have to go through and these are the things they’re responsible to teach. So we would not support the removal of an instructor license. Oftentimes, you’ll hear that from NIC is we are focused on consumer safety. And so do we feel that these industries need to be regulated? Absolutely. Do we think that there can be streamlining? Possibly. And what we can do is provide them with those facts and that data to let those leaders look at it and say, okay, this is what we’re dealing with and these are the facts. So this is our proposal to move forward. So that’s generally how we will respond to that. We also partner with national infection control experts such as the CDC. We share their guidance and on our website, through our notifications, and at the in-person meetings when we’re called to talk to legislators about topics of deregulation and their information is really crucial, of course, to consumer safety and to assisting licensees to know how to practice safely. We believe uniformity and standardization is really important. And our national exam is a prime example of promoting a national standard. We also have an executive director committee and they consist of executive directors who administer and regulate cosmetology and related professions throughout the United States. And these executive directors are in the process of developing a uniform model that has been in development for several years. And what they did is they conducted several studies collecting data from all the states, and reviewed for consistency, and they’re continuing to work on this, and develop that. But the goal is to provide a tool that promotes standardization in education, testing, and regulation so that if a state is faced with a proposal, say from the industry comes forward and says to a legislator, would you take on a bill that develops a brand new license for something? I don’t know, let’s say eyebrow removal, for instance. What we would like to do is have a tool that is available to anyone to go and look at what the uniform model law suggests. And again, these are just suggestions, but it is based on a standard that has been found through these studies that these executive directors had looked at. So I’ll use an example of our requirements for cosmetology. I don’t know if you’re familiar, but it, it’s really diverse throughout the United States about which state requires how many hours. This model law recommends 1600 hours and that was based on a study that showed the majority of the states are able to complete that education within 1600 hours. Does that mean the state has to adopt that? It does not. It really is just a guideline. And so the more that we do that it will promote the standardization and universal portability for individuals.

JAIME: When legislators and individuals who want to enter our industry are concerned about barriers to entry, other than the fact that the NIC is promoting standardization and the portability of licensure, what arguments can we make about what our industry is doing to reduce the barriers to entry?

SUSAN: Well, I think I’ve touched on several and talked about the national credential. We’re going to be working closely with states to hope that they will support this. The barriers to entry, of course, are the languages and having more available language, and as we go along, we are interested in hearing about barriers that states are dealing with and/or individuals. Because a lot of the focus in the last several years from the federal government has been to look at occupational licensing, and in some cases proposed deregulation, and they also are looking at the diversity of the standards that are throughout the United States. So at a very high level, when a high-level legislator is looking across the United States and says, okay, how come the state has a hundred hours and this state has 750 hours? So what that does is that puts a question in their mind is, if it’s so different, why do we even need to regulate it? Because it doesn’t make sense. What we can do, we as an industry, is try to continue to get this to be standard because then that removes question. And the opportunity for someone to come in and say, well, if I go to this state, I can get in real easy. But if I go to that state, I don’t even think I can get a license because I can’t meet their requirements. That is really what we need to focus on to remove these threats of deregulation is remove the question of why we’re so different in each state.

JAIME: As far as the trend, do you see it trending towards 1600 hours as a standard or do you see the momentum shifting to a thousand hour curriculum?


SUSAN: You know, I don’t have the specifics because I really haven’t heard from states on what they’re doing with that. All we can do is promote these national standard, which I would hope would lead them to what we have found is the average, or the national average, of what states are focusing on, but we can’t come in and tell a state what their hours should be. All we can do is encourage them to continue to look at it and determine then the necessary needed hours to obtain these educations. So if a legislator is told that they need to reduce the hours, and they’re given all these reasons why, and they’ve gotten enough information to show that they think this is probably a good bill. So they’ll put in a bill to reduce the hours. So I’ll give you the example of what you just said, 1600 to a thousand. Industry might come in and say, whoa, hold on. There is no way we can teach all this during that time. So a legislator is now hearing from both sides of the fence and they’re trying to decipher what is really the right thing to do. Because they hear the passion behind the educators, whether it’s a school or the instructors who are coming forth saying there is no way these people can be ready to go out and to pass minimum competency exams without that 1600 hours. Well, legislative leaders are hearing it from all different ways and so our job is to give them information that are based on facts. So then they can move forward and make that decision. So I, if any message I can get out to the industries is that, okay. Help your states determine what is the right amount of hours, whether it’s through a board meeting or whether it’s writing to them when they’re doing amendments to their rules or their legislation. Help them try to determine what is the best way to get there. So that it’s our choice. It’s not being removed from us from deregulation threats. If we can be part of the solution, we are going to continue to be able to keep regulation in these industries.

ASHLEY: Susan, how does an industry member stay informed of the current status and the work that the NIC is doing to move us toward this national standard? Is it through a newsletter?   Do you have social media? How can we stay in touch about it?

SUSAN: You can stay in touch by going to our website, nictesting.org.  And on our front page, there is a signup and those are where we send out all of our information. And we talk often about the projects moving forward which is the national database and the national credential. And we’re talking about protocols for safety and sanitation from our infection control experts. We do have a newsletter that goes out quarterly. We had a delay for about a year and a half. Now I just came on in my position a year ago. So since I’ve started in this position, we’ve revamped our website. We’ve updated it. We’ve built our licensee base. We’ve opened up to members and non-members and at the virtual event, we invited everyone. It wasn’t just state. The NIC has in the last year really grown as a national partner and that was our goal. Before we were known as a national testing company, and we only had state regulators coming to our conferences. And now we have opened up to where we are communicating with everyone, with licensees and we had an amazing turnout on our virtual event and the feedback was really great. So I can see that licensees are really hungry for this information. So that’s how they can do it. And they can contact us at communicate.nic@gmail.com if they want to write in an email to us. And all of this information is listed on our website.

JAIME: Well, we look forward, Susan, to learning more about the NIC and participating as much as we can. And again, thank you for making yourself available today to share with us what it is that you’re doing as an organization.

SUSAN: Thank you so much. I truly appreciate the opportunity to be able to let everyone know what we’re working on and hopefully, people can be a part of helping us promote universal licensing and we can do that through our national database and our national credential.


ASHLEY: Yes. Thank you again, Susan.


JAIME: Ashley, I found it interesting that the change of leadership in the NIC has prompted these efforts with the government relations team and this development of the national database  to standardize in a way that we would not have had the possibility to do before this.

ASHLEY: And it leaves me with a question of what this database will consist of. Will it be a database of those who have earned this national license? Is it another test we’ll need to take, or will it just show the current licensure as it stands right now? I just feel like there’s more questions as we move toward this idea of a universal license.

JAIME: To be continued.

ASHLEY: Definitely. Well, if you’re enjoying Outgrowth, please leave a review on Apple podcasts with just one click. Visit bit.ly/outgrowthpodcast.

JAIME: As always, you can follow us and comment on recent episodes on Instagram at @outgrowthpodcast.

ASHLEY: All right, until next time be smart.

JAIME: Be safe.


JAIME: Bye. 

Described as the best beauty podcast in 2020, Outgrowth Podcast is for hairstylists, nail techs, estheticians, massage therapists and lash technicians. Hosted by beauty industry experts Ashley Gregory Hackett and Jaime Schrabeck, PhD, this salon industry podcast has helpful  interviews with guests that teach topics from increasing salon clientele, salon marketing, covid guidelines, beauty industry insights, starting a salon, renting a salon suite, salon Instagram tips, and how to run a successful salon. Join us for weekly episodes of hair podcasts, nail podcasts, esty podcast, and more.

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