Accredited Massage Therapy Schools are a Scam!

In a prior article wherein we advocated why accredited massage therapy schools are the way to go, we emphasized the qualities and upside of attending an accredited school. What we feel we didn’t do a fair job of is mentioning the flip side of the coin and hence this article.

In our previous article, we mentioned the following:

“Don’t assume all schools are accredited. They are not. There are many schools that are still non-accredited and potential students should be aware of them. Although they could be great institutions, unfortunately with “diploma factories” churning out low quality certificates to those that cannot afford the accredited schools, this trend has damaged the reputation of many unaccredited schools in the perceptions of employers and consumers.

Attending a non-accredited school, while the tuition may be cheaper, and should be so significantly, will affect your chances of being state licensed and finding employment in highly esteemed and sought after professional massage therapy organizations.

There are some rare circumstances where you would consider this option, such as acquiring knowledge for your own sake as well as acquiring skills outside your current profession to aid in that profession but where you would not rely on massage therapy as your main source of income.”

Looking back in retrospect, we feel this was a bit unfair as the article put the accredited category in a bright and positive limelight while making it sound that you should completely avoid attending a non accredited school.

Specifically as it pertains to the comment “Although they could be great institutions, unfortunately with “diploma factories” churning out low quality certificates to those that cannot afford the accredited schools, this trend has damaged the reputation of many unaccredited schools in the perceptions of employers and consumers.”, the same can be said for accredited schools.

Consolidations, Acquisitions & The Flip Side of the Argument

The massage school industry has witnessed a significant amount of consolidation and acquisitions which has definitely impacted the industry.  Consolidations and acquisitions are often done when synergies and scale are identified to make a business more profitable. Unfortunately, when dollars and cents are at stake, many times the quality of the product and / or service (in this case education) suffers. Such is the case in any industry and thus you always have two sides tugging at the rope – the business side and then those who truly care to deliver a world class experience to their customers.

We are not indicating that this is the case in every situation, but we have seen consolidations lead to weaker curricula and cookie cutter type programs that product graduates that care less about the core principles of massage or they don’t learn it properly. We witness several larger, consolidated institutions focus much more on the marketing and business side of things.

So which side is the right side? The answer depends on what you, as a student, truly wants. Our opinion is that the right side is a good balance between both – a strong curriculum that produces solid massage therapists who contribute to their highest potential to society, as well as a sound business acumen for those looking to establish their business.  In fact we feel all massage students should be well versed in marketing and business fundamentals to some degree because these are critical skills they need once they graduate from massage school.

Why Some Schools Become Accredited While Others Don’t – Another Argument

Another argument we often hear from both accredited and non accredited massage schools is the reason a school decides to become accredited in the first place. Many non accredited institutions will argue that the only reason schools do this is so they can plug into federal financing.  In essence, the US tax payers support these schools.

An anecdotal evidence of this is the Steiner group, a corporation, which as of 2014 owned 18 of the biggest schools and since the acquisition phase have significantly increased their tuition.  Many non accredited schools argue that the quality of the education has dropped coupled with a high attrition rate and 40 – 50% of therapists dropping out of the field within 2 years of graduation. But then again, we do see similar experiences with non accredited schools as well. So is the category of accredited vs non accredited to be blamed in this case? We are not so sure.

Many non accredited schools will advocate that they are an independent non corporate school, cultivating a culture of non dependence on the federal government and who offer high quality education with teachers who have been working and teaching in the field for decades. All that with an affordable tuition rate and payment plans of sorts with no interest charged. Many will add on that their pass rates are far superior specific to the national certification exam and the MBLEX. They will tell you that the corporate model does not work. But again, we also see larger, accredited institutions with all these plus points.  So is the category of accredited vs non accredited to be blamed in this case? We are still not so sure.

We have also heard from many non accredited schools that massage professional organizations are doing “back flips”, offering training for their teachers to try to increase the effectiveness of teachers and massage education because the corporate schools hire teachers with no experience, pay them poorly, and charge more for the education. We can certainly understand the “value add” offering a company would make in form of an education to increase revenues, but then again, teachers at non accredited schools also need on going training don’t they?

School Tuition, Fees & Financial Aid – The Cost Side of the Equation – Another Argument

Let’s put all else aside (we will come back to it in the conclusion) and strictly discuss dollars and cents. In other words, what’s the financial impact on students when evaluating whether to attend an accredited or non accredited massage therapy school.

When you evaluate tuition and fees for the first time, it may appear that non accredited schools are cheaper to attend. This may or may not be the case. On the flip side, an accredited school may appear to cost significantly more, but when you factor in financial aid you may end up paying less to attend the institution.

As we’ve discussed previously in our comprehensive financial aid guide for massage students, an important consideration before even learning about the various financial aid alternatives available to you is to understand the core difference between accredited and non-accredited massage therapy schools from a financing perspective.  Federal Financial Aid is the most common source of financial aid for any type of post high school education. It is also the easiest to obtain providing that you qualify for it.

When evaluating massage therapy schools to attend, you will generally find that a school is either accredited or non-accredited.  The biggest and arguably only difference that you need to know between this is the fact that accredited massage therapy schools are qualified to participate in the government’s Title IV Federal Financial Aid program.

What this means is that if you choose to attend an accredited massage therapy school, you can qualify to receive financial aid from the government. This is an enticing benefit because some, and in many cases most or all federal financial aid is “free” money. In other words, you don’t have to pay it back.

But here is the rest of the story that many do not realize. Accredited massage schools often charge a much higher tuition. How does this impact you as a student? The best way to answer this question is through an example:

Accredited Massage School:

  • Tuition: $12,000
  • Federal Financial Aid: $5,000
  • Net Tuition: $7,000

Non-Accredited Massage School:

  • Tuition: $6,000

This example cannot be generalized. In other words, not every non accredited massage school is more economical than an accredited massage school. Each school should be evaluated based on its own financial situation. Tuition rates widely vary at every school. In addition, there are other scholarships and non-government financial aid considerations that may apply to some schools.

Let’s have a look at another example:

Accredited Massage School:

  • Tuition: $14,500
  • Federal Financial Aid: $7,700
  • Net Tuition: $6,800

Non-Accredited Massage School:

  • Tuition: $7,200

In the scenario above, you are actually better off attending a more expensive and accredited program strictly from a financial perspective because of more federal aid. This scenario can be driven by an individual’s specific circumstance and the state in which the school is located (tuition rates reflect the demographics of the geography you are in).

It is important to understand that not everyone qualifies for Federal Financial Aid. Of those that qualify, they all qualify for different amounts which is clearly demonstrated in the two scenarios above. You cannot really fully evaluate your own situation until you know what the specific numbers are that pertain to you. This is one reason you should not be basing your decision solely on the simplified examples above.

One thing the example above clearly demonstrates however is the fact that accredited massage therapy schools are not always the most economical to attend even in spite of the financial aid you can obtain.  In many cases, attending a non-accredited massage school may end up easier on your wallet. The flip side of course is also true.

If you are going to consider non accredited schools in your search, make sure you read this article so you know exactly what to look for and what to ask. Choosing the wrong non accredited school just because it’s cheaper will be a serious impediment to your career success.

Industry News: Accredited Schools in a Negative Limelight

There have been several disturbing articles about accredited massage schools in industry publications in recent years. While we are certain that non accredited schools have their share of blips as well, larger institutions tend to be featured more on news stories because of their broader appeal and more perceived public interest.

Some articles we have come across show that the larger, corporate model that have accreditation and offer student loans have been failing in that there is a high attrition rate in both students and teachers.  In a relatively recent survey researchers have also found that 40 – 50% of graduates of these schools drop out once professionally practicing massage within 2 years while carrying large student loans.  These publications and survey also draw a link between these statistics and the AMTA & ABMP’s recent offering of training programs for accredited schools & teachers.

We also noticed on the Facebook page for the Alliance of Massage Educators a notice about one of the accrediting agencies that took away one of the small school’s accreditation and was later sued by the school who then won. As a result the accrediting board had to pay a large amount (around 4 million from what we recollect), The accrediting board has since rewritten their “laws” so that all claims would have to be resolved by them and so that no one else can sue them.

There is usually fire where there is smoke. Our point is that when you elevate to the larger stage, things can get a bit messy as the case is with many massage organizations, many of which are arguably buying into the “hook, line and sinker” path.

So What’s the Answer? Which Way Should You Go?

While we don’t intend to confuse you more with this article, we can understand what may be going through your mind right now as you conclude this article. Are accredited massage therapy schools a scam? We are not so sure. While there is anecdotal evidence that places a not so ideal spotlight on these, many favorable stories also go unnoticed. On the flip side, not every non accredited school is ideal either.

What we want you to take away from this article is that you can still get certified and licensed when you attend a non-accredited school so as long as you pick the right one. This article will help you do that.

And with all that said, your decision to choose a massage school should not be solely based on whether the school is accredited or non-accredited, or whether it is cheaper than the alternative options you are considering. Your selection of a massage school should be based on a combination of a variety of factors that truly are more important and relevant to your decision, and more importantly to your future as a massage therapist.

So how do you know which factors are most important to consider in your decision? How do you know what truly matters and that you are making the right decision? How do you maximize your chances of satisfaction, fulfillment and ensure that you go on to establish a successful career in massage therapy?

We will help you. We have compiled a comprehensive decision making check-list that you can download for free here.

What you will realize is that our approach to decision making involves a methodical process wherein you pick the best school for YOU and YOU ONLY based on your personal situation. You need to evaluate each school on its own merit, regardless of whether it is accredited or non accredited in status.

You will also notice that our due diligence check list involves a lot of feedback seeking from instructors, school officials, previous and current students. At the end of the day however, you must go with your own decision which should be based on which school fits your personal situation the best.

Once again, you can download our due diligence check list here.

And if you are going to consider some non accredited massage therapy schools in your search process, make sure you read this article in its entirety before you further pursue.

Neal Lyons is a founding member and volunteer contributor at the MTSI Institute, an information based portal dedicated to guiding and assisting aspiring massage therapists establish a successful career in massage. Neal is a published author and has collaborated on several mobile applications that serve the massage profession. You can view his published work on Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Sony and Kobo. You can connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and on Google+

Posted in Career Considerations, Certification, Cost of Education, Massage Therapy Schools
2 comments on “Accredited Massage Therapy Schools are a Scam!
  1. Bernadette says:

    Please help me to find funding for a non-accredited massage school program. Thank you.

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