According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the years from 2012 to 2022, massage therapy as a profession is expected to grow by an amazing 23%. This projected figure is much higher than the average in any other profession and to cater to the growing number of aspiring therapists, there is an expected rise in the number of schools and educational institutions offering massage therapy courses.
In the years from 2004 to 2012, there was a noticeable drop in the number of students enrolling in massage healing programs and as a result, it was found that only the larger massage schools and community colleges were able to ride out the economic downturn.
They were also able to continue to offer courses at affordable rates thanks to the federal aid that was offered to students. The ABMP reported that there were 1,582 massage schools in the US in 2004, and in the year 2014, there were 310 schools accredited schools that were part of the AMTA organization alone, one of the many professional membership agencies in the country.
In today’s times, however, there is an increasing demand for massage therapists working in private practices and in spas, clinics, and other facilities. With more and more Americans opting for alternate forms of therapy for the issues they face and an increasing confidence in the effectiveness of the therapy as a cure, massage courses are very much in demand. The fact that patients can now avail of insurance reimbursement for massage therapy sessions is another huge positive.
Moving forward, the Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals reported that in the year 2015 30,000 to 35,000 massage therapy students graduated from 1,100 schools. While these figures do indicate that fewer students are opting for a massage therapist’s career, there are far more massage therapy schools today than in the past years. There are also different kinds of institutions offering massage training such as:
- Proprietary schools that typically offer massage therapy and spa courses. They could be owned by a single entity and have a sole campus.
- Career training institutions that offer courses in other kinds of careers besides those in massage therapy. Most of them are accredited by agencies that have the recognition of the US Department of Education.
- Corporate massage schools that are also accredited by agencies that have the recognition of the US Department of Education. These schools offer programs out of multiple campuses and have branches in many states.
- Colleges that teach massage that are accredited by the state where they are run. They are typically community or technical institutions.
- Public schools that are run as local public educational programs.
Online vs. Offline Massage Therapy Schools
Online massage therapy courses are gaining popularity among entry-level aspirants. Many schools, colleges, and universities are now offering hybrid programs. These programs include a combination of specific courses by way of distance learning and hands-on programs in labs and classrooms.
There are many positives of distance education such as:
- Flexibility in time schedules so students can accommodate their other commitments
- Ease of access to massage therapy courses for a larger number of students
- Possibility of taking more advanced courses over a bigger geographical area (a single massage therapy school can offer only a fixed number of modalities)
- Access to more and better trained instructors at far off locations
- Cheaper tuition and the possibility of eliminating other expenses such as living on or close to the campus and commuting to classes
- More interactive web-based programs including webinars, online chat portals, notice boards, discussion forums, video tutoring, and other comprehensive tools
Since many of the courses in massage therapy are purely theoretical, it is possible for students to study them online without the need to attend classes. These include anatomy, physiology, business and accounting, professional ethics, pathology, and kinesiology, among others.
However, there are many downsides too, such as:
- Students pass up on the campus and classroom training experiences
- Lack of access to libraries, research facilities, and supplementary training avenues provided by colleges and campuses
- Additional costs of equipment needed for online studying such as computers, internet access, software, and other materials
- Costs of other training equipment that would otherwise be provided by the college or school
- Lack of access to scholarships and grants that colleges offer
- Lack of prestige associated with studying on campus
- Students need to look for accredited hands-on programs that can provide the necessary hours and training.
- Higher dropout rate because of missed classes and assignments
Having completed the required number of online hours and offline hands-on training as mandated by the state where they live, bodywork aspirants can take the exams and get their certification to practice full-time.
However, while the number of educational institutions offering online courses is on the rise, there is an ongoing debate on the quality of the bodywork education thus achieved. This is primarily because massage therapy is by far a hands-on approach to healing and needs careful practical training under an expert professional teacher. Further, student satisfaction in the online courses and dropout rates are other factors under scrutiny. Even so, the coming years will see a marked rise in online learning.
Accredited and Non accredited Massage Therapy Schools
Aspiring massage therapists have many criteria in mind when choosing between an accredited and non accredited school. And, they are often cautious about getting their training at a non accredited school instead preferring to opt for accredited schools because of various positives such as:
- To take the certification exam and the MBLEX licensing test, you need to attend a school that helps you fulfill the requirements needed to sit for the exam (clarification: the school does not need to be accredited).
- Federal financial aid is also a major deciding factor against nonaccredited schools. Although, it must be noted that tuition at accredited schools is often higher than at the nonaccredited schools and federal financing could be the reason behind it. Further, not all students can qualify for aid.
- Prospective employers prefer to hire graduates from accredited schools believing that they have gained a better standard of training and expertise.
But, there are a number of outstanding massage therapy schools that have opted not to take accreditation. They have features such as:
- Excellent training and well preparation of students
- More economical thanks to their small sizes and low operational costs
- Members of state boards
Non accredited schools present many arguments against the credentials such as:
- The great deal of expense and detailed paperwork involved in getting accreditation that these schools are unwilling to invest in.
- They would prefer not to allow government control over their operations that invariably results because of accreditation.
- These institutions gauge their success rates by the number of students successfully getting their licenses, passing exams, job placement rates, and general satisfaction.
That said, it is ultimately the students’ prerogative and the conveniences they perceive when choosing between an accredited and non accredited school. Thus, the possibility of the numbers of such schools growing could depend on the demand for them. Even so, there does seem to be larger focus on accredited schools rather than non accredited schools.
Massage Therapy School Franchises
Corporate ownership of massage therapy schools or franchises has also been on the rise in recent times. And, the massage industry is witnessing more and more consolidations and acquisitions. Statistics released by the ABMP show that there are more students attending courses in corporate schools than in any other programs. These schools offer many benefits to students such as:
- More economical courses because of better financial viability
- Efficiency in the courses imparted because of the school ownership by a single management
- Standardized curriculum that can result in a higher quality of education that is also consistent
- Establishment of more schools over a larger geographical area
However, many experts point to the downsides of franchised schools. They are:
- Corporate or franchised massage schools will mean lower standards of training because of the one-size-fits-all philosophy.
- Because the focus of corporates is always on profit maximization, this could affect the level of massage therapists graduating from such schools.
- Corporate schools typically offer courses at higher tuitions. To quote an example, the Steiner group of 18 schools has increased the tuition ever since they began acquiring new branches.
- There is a possibility that franchises could opt to hire insufficiently trained instructors to teach the students in an attempt to lower their cost of operations.
Even so, statistics and studies show that corporate acquisitions and consolidations are going to be on the rise in the coming years.
Financial Aid for Massage Therapy Students in the Future (Impact on Enrollment)
There are a wide range of possibilities for getting financial support for students looking to get into massage therapy school, both government and non government.
Federal Aid: Students looking for financial aid to attend bodywork courses have to qualify for it and this eligibility can depend on various conditions such as being a legal resident of the US, having passed high school or an equivalent GED, and having a social security number among others.
Federal aid is available to students that choose to attend an accredited school and this money is given free, which means that students need not pay it back. Thus, this serves as a good incentive to study at such a school and many students opt for an accredited school solely because of this condition. In present times, there are different categories of the Title IV Federal Financial Aid and applying for this aid is free. These programs include:
- Federal Pell Grant Program
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant Program (FSEOG)
- Direct Stafford Subsidized Loans
- Direct Stafford Unsubsidized Loans
- Direct Parent PLUS Loans
- Federal Work-Study Program
Other Agencies: Aside from federal aid, students can apply for many scholarships available through other agencies and often these institutions do not expect students to attend an accredited school only. Students can look for aid from:
- MTSI Annual Scholarship awarded on the basis of a contest
- Scholarships offered by the AMTA, MassageSchool.org, Massage Magazine Scholarship, The Point Foundation Scholarship Program, Imagine America Foundation, The American Association of University Women
- Massage therapy school
- Local support groups, libraries, churches, banks, unions, employers and many other such private organizations offer aid to deserving students
- Students can also check the internet for information on the financial aid available to aspiring bodywork therapists.
Other Options: Students can get a discount on the tuition they pay if they can pay it in lump sum in advance and to do that there are many low interest credit and loans they can avail of. Tuition can also be paid in installments at a very nominal interest. Very often, schools are affiliated to massage businesses and students can request that their tuition be waived in exchange for employment at lower salaries for a time.
These are only some of the financial aid avenues available to students looking to get into bodywork school. And, since getting aid is so easy, more and more students opt to apply for it and study at a school of their choice.
In conclusion, all these factors indicate that the coming years are likely to see a huge growth in the arena of massage schools with many more schools and different types of courses along with the necessary aid opening up for future massage therapists and bodywork students.