This article’s credit goes to the ABMP, Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals who sponsors the Massage Therapy site, a site dedicated to publishing information to contribute to the progression of the massage industry.
According to the ABMP, as of 2013 there were 1,319 massage schools and/or programs in the USA. That’s an average of 26 per State, although the reality is that some States have a significant amount more while some have significantly less. The number is further broken down as follows:
- 686 programs in proprietary schools that are usually smaller and owner operated. These may or may not be accredited.
- 370 programs in career training institutions that are multi program institutions that also offer other career training programs in addition to massage. These are typically accredited.
- 185 programs in colleges that are usually State run or technical/vocational that are regionally accredited.
- 60 programs in corporate massage schools that have multiple campuses across multiple states and are accredited by the US Department of Education
- 18 public school programs that are locally accredited and part of the public school system
Of all these, corporate massage schools are quickly gaining ranks as more consolidation takes place in the industry, which is what we want to focus this article on. We are likely to see more consolidation going forward as institutions gain scale as they become larger in size. Whether or not this impacts the quality of education is a different discussion. Read our article on the potential controversy here. We have expressed our thoughts on both sides of the argument. You can read the counterargument here.
What we do see as a fact today is that the smaller schools have a smaller number of students in their program. More students appear to be attending lager institutions for various reasons, many of which are arguable perceptive in nature. Is this a good thing for the industry? Read the controversial article above and the counter argument to it to better understand the dichotomy that exists and what it means for the massage industry and its future.
According to the ABMP, the average number of students per massage program is as follows:
- 84 students per corporate massage school program
- 31 students per proprietary program
- 26 students per career training institution program
- 23 students per collegiate program
- 21 students per program in public schools
Financial Aid Implications of the Massage School You Choose
With so many types of schools around what does this all mean in terms of financial aid for prospective students? There are 5 categories in the list above, and of these 5 most are eligible under the Federal Title IV program, which qualifies their students to receive Federal financial aid if they qualify.
Massage programs offered at corporate schools, public schools and colleges are all Title IV eligible. Many massage programs at career training institutions are also eligible. That leaves proprietary institutions out of the equation. Ironically, this is the category where most of the massage schools fall into.
This is where the industry dynamics become interesting. Of all the programs in this category, less than 150 or 20% are accredited and therefore eligible under the Title IV program. This presents an interesting dilemma for prospective students who potentially qualify for financial aid. What school should they choose? How do they go about their decision? Access our comprehensive decision making checklist here.
Massage School Trend Over Time – A Decrease Across the Board
Perhaps history will help us better understand why things are they way they are today in the industry and where they are headed. Historically, the massage industry has benefited from explosive growth since 1998, with student enrollment and graduation rates booming before hitting a plateau in 2004, when according to the ABMP there were 1,582 massage schools. In 1999, there were 137,390 trained massage therapists in the United States. In 2013, this number ballooned to 320,000.
Since then however the number has slightly declined year over year. For example, from 2008 to 2011 or so, the number of training programs decreased by over 11%, enrollment by 16% and massage therapist graduates by 11%. This trend continued well into 2013 and 2014. That said, we have seen the drop stagnate and in some cases even level off completely.
What’s interesting is that the number of schools have increased while the number of graduates and practitioners have decreased; begging the question whether we need consolidation? In our estimation, we believe consolidation, either through mergers, acquisitions or divestitures, is inevitable in our industry.
The Future Direction of Massage Therapy
Massage therapy as an industry and a career remain solid. The future is very bright, given a wider acceptance, insurance companies starting to reimburse massage therapy as qualified medical services, and the predicted increase in the number of massage therapy jobs. This is according to the Bureau of Labor and Economic Growth.
And while the future of the industry is bright, we do anticipate smaller schools consolidating into larger ones as student concentration appears to heavily weigh on larger institutions. And if we keep subjectivity aside and examine objective facts, the ABMP research study revealed that accredited programs on average graduate more than twice as many students as non-accredited massage therapy schools. So with that said, we once again ask the question, are fewer massage schools the answer, with accredited institutions representing the majority of these?
Have a read at this article for a deeper, more thorough discussion on this debate.