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Statistics: Massage Schools

Where do massage therapists train?
As of February 2013, there are 1,319 massage therapy training programs in the United States. These are categorized as follows:

  • 686 programs at proprietary schools. Institutions offering massage therapy (and sometimes also spa) programs. Typically single campus, single owner.
  • 370 programs at career training institutions. Multi-program institutions offering many career training programs in addition to massage therapy (typically medical and dental assisting, medical record-keeping, etc.). Nearly all are accredited by U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agencies, and are either privately held or publicly traded.
  • 185 programs at colleges. Massage programs offered at state-run community or technical colleges. Regionally accredited.
  • 60 programs at corporate massage schools. Institutions offering massage therapy and spa programs, typically multi-campus, multi-state. Nearly all are accredited by U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agencies. Each campus is counted as a distinct program.
  • 18 programs at public schools. Massage programs offered at regionally accredited institutions that are part of the local public school system.

Average number of students per program

  • Career training institutions: 26
  • Colleges: 23
  • Corporate massage schools: 84
  • Proprietary schools: 31
  • Public schools: 21

Financial aid
In four of the five school categories identified, access to federal (Title IV) financial aid is nearly automatic. All programs at corporate massage schools, colleges, and public schools are Title IV-eligible, and so are all but a handful of programs at career training institutions.

A significant segment of non-Title IV programs are at proprietary schools. Of the 686 programs in this category, only 141 (20.6%) of programs are accredited and Title IV-eligible. The survey gives insight to the difference accreditation and Title IV funding can make in a school’s enrollment profile. Accredited programs on average graduate more than twice as many students as their non-accredited colleagues.

Historic trends
After explosive growth of 107.7% from 1998 to 2004, student enrollment and graduation numbers began to level off. The rate of growth slowed to 7.8% between 2004 and 2006, and slowed further to 2.5% from 2006 to 2008. ABMP’s school database peaked in 2006 at 1,582 schools. A dramatic trend during this growth period was the variety and number of new schools springing up, as well as established schools that began offering massage therapy programs for the first time.

In 2011, numbers of training programs and students declined for the first time. The number of training programs decreased 10% since 2008, and the number of graduates decreased 11%. Enrollments decreased 16.2% from 2009 to 2011.

The number of graduates in 2012 extended a now eight-year decline from the historical peak of 2004, representing a 45% drop during that eight-year period. The number of graduates from massage therapy programs in 2012 dipped below 40,000 for the first time since 1998. However, it is worth noting that in 1998 there were nearly 700 fewer schools.

What does the future hold?
ABMP’s prediction, based on our efforts in the massage education arena for the past 16 years, is that the current decline will continue. Massage is a viable career for the right individuals. During the past decade, the mushrooming growth of training options, combined with increased ease of federally-funded tuition assistance, created a bubble that was unsustainable. The field is returning to a more normalized number of graduates.

We would not be surprised to see a continued decline resulting in 30,000 – 35,000 graduates coming from 1,100 schools in 2015. If that is the prediction, how will the massage profession get there? An observer might look at this data and realize, “This field needs consolidation.” In 1998, fewer than half the number of schools produced more graduates than in 2012. Today there are hundreds of small schools with minimal student populations, and these schools have less cushion than ever to withstand the bumps of competition and the economy. Perhaps if more of these schools joined forces, a more robust training environment would emerge.

Download a PDF of the complete 2013 report on bodywork and massage therapy education, with charts and other information.

Methodology: Since 1999, ABMP has contacted every massage and bodywork program in its database every two years to gauge the enrollment health of the school universe. Programs are contacted via email and telephone in January and February to secure participation, with multiple attempts at contact made to each school. The 2013 census included answers from 82.9% of recognized massage programs in the United States. Estimates for the remainder of programs were constructed based on prior participation, program type, and trend data from the programs that did respond.

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