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Valley technical schools offer discounts for students to hone their skills

In this economy, deals are everywhere. But if you want consistent savings, go back to school.

Don't worry, you won't have to crack any books. You simply must be willing to let students provide the services.

Colleges, institutes and technical schools allow advanced students to hone their skills on members of the public. In turn. these services, which are supervised by professionals or instructors, often are deeply discounted.

"It's a win-win situation," said Sue Kater, interim executive director of Maricopa Skill Center, which offers programs in cosmetology and meat cutting, among others. Students get necessary training as consumers save money, she said.

At various Valley schools, you can get a new hairstyle, enjoy a massage or dine on a five-course meal. Other schools focus on health, offering teeth cleanings, vision checks or skin repair through microdermabrasion. Some schools even offer occasional free services.

Part-time residents Carole and Jay Fenberg get weekly massages at Spa Pima, the clinic at Pima Medical Institute in Mesa.

"My husband is a runner so he needs them. I just really like them," Carole Fenberg said.

Paying just $25 allows them to go more often than if they were paying typical spa prices (roughly two to five times as much). They even make a date out of it, going to lunch before their treatments.

"I have two children in the dental field," the Mesa resident said. "I've never had as thorough a cleaning as I've had at Carrington."

The clinic - similar to other clinics, salons and teaching centers - mirrors a real work environment despite its size. It has five wings containing 30 bays, each with a dental chair, equipment and a computer. Close by is the hospital-level sterilization room, where students learn how to sterilize their instruments.

In the butcher program at Maricopa Skill Center, students learn to cut, trim, code and tray meats, set up a store meat counter, deal with customers and clean up the butcher shop - "all the ins and outs of the business," instructor Ed Ramoni said. He was a student in the program in 1977; afterward, he worked in the food industry before returning to teach.

The only thing students don't experience are the rigors of working in a real-world shop.

"What we do here once or twice a week, you might do 10 times a day" in the field, he said. "When you leave here, you learn under fire."

As students cut the meat, the school cuts prices. Customers may buy beef-stew meat for $2.89 a pound, pork tenderloin for $3.99 a pound, and a variety of other meats, cheeses and lunch meats. The prices beat those of most grocery stores, said Chuck Lindsey, another instructor.

Empire Beauty School, with four locations in the Valley, operates like a typical salon, spokeswoman Angela Watson said. The salons offer hair products, giving students retail experience. Clients can request specific student stylists. A haircut, which includes a shampoo, is $5. Services also include highlights, perms and manicures.

At Empire and many other beauty and dental programs, students first work on mannequins, then move on to friends, family members and peers before progressing to the public.

At PIHMA Acupuncture College, which offers a four-year program, students begin performing acupuncture in their third or fourth year, marketing assistant Carrie Thoreson said. The price is $45 for an initial visit and $35 for follow-up visits.

"The great thing about the school is that students get a clientele," Thoreson said.

The affordable prices and range of services offered at Valley schools make devotees of many clients, such as Bonnie Jackson. She recently drove a friend from her Peoria home to Maricopa Skill Center, near downtown Phoenix, so the friend could get an affordable haircut. While there, Jackson discovered she could get faux eyelashes for $5.

"I've never had long eyelashes before," she said, showing off her new look. "Now I can go out."

She had considered getting false eyelashes in the past but didn't want to pay $35 for something that would last two weeks. Now that problem is solved.

"I made a standing appointment for every other Friday to have it done," she said.