Why are Massage School Enrollments Down?

Massage School enrollments are down across the US and more and more franchises are opening every day.  There are more jobs available than there are massage therapists to fill the positions.

There are so many massage franchises opening up it is really changing the direction of the profession.  The massage franchises came onto the scene in about 2004 with the first Massage Envy franchise.  The franchises offer low cost massage, which means that they pay their massage therapists much less to be able to charge so little.  They also have heavy franchise fees that they have to pay also and it usually is a very big expense to open one – about $350K for a Massage Envy Franchise – so yes they need to make a lot of money to make it all up and to make a living on top of it.

But here is the thing – there were not many other jobs before the franchises showed up.  There were mainly spas and working for chiropractors which is not always the best option either.  High end spas are where you will make the most money really.  Chiropractors have a tendency to take advantage of massage therapists also.  There are of course some who pay fairly too.  It is hard to make sense of all this since we don’t have any real statistics in the massage profession.  The BLS stats always base the wages on working full time – 40 hours a week which no massage therapist ever does.

The low cost massage has also driven the VALUE Of massage DOWN.  It is just economics 101 – when you offer a service for a lower rate that has always been offered at a higher rate, people start to expect that all massage will be low cost.  They will frequent the low cost massage places over more expensive. The low cost franchise massage tends to be moving toward a 50 minute hour and also hopes that the employee will make up the difference in tips which always vary.  After tips, the price is starting to get higher which is not really as much of a savings as perceived.

Meanwhile, massage schools started opening up one after another, thinking they were jumping on the bandwagon of supplying all these franchises with graduates!  In 2002, there were approximately 875 massage schools.   In 2004, there were 1346 massage schools.   See the data.  

In May 2007 there were 1550 massage schools.  Then in 2013, ABMP said there were 1319 massage schools.

Does anyone see where this is going???

Put that in a big pot and stir it around and what do you have???  Too many massage schools, not enough student’s/graduates to fill the many many many franchise jobs let alone the spa jobs.  My cooking experiment was also confirmed in May 2015, I attended a little meeting called into being by one of the many Massage Envy Franchise owners to talk about what is going on.  The owners and teachers of the many local massage schools were invited.  The first thing out of the ME owners mouth was….  I don’t have enough people to fill my available jobs and I don’t know what to do anymore, so I am coming to you to try to put answers together.  The result was an evening presentation of a guy Joe from the Evergreen Beauty Academy, a prominent local beauty school who talked about having a similar problem.  His answer to it all was to create something called ‘Beauty Changes Lives” (www.beautychangeslives.com) The goal of this org is to get more people interested in a career in beauty by making it more appealing.  Rather than just come and learn to cut hair or do nails, the theme became – do something that will change your life and the life of others – become a beautician.


Blake was the next presenter, who was the creator of the website www.naturalhealers.com which he no longer owns. He did some preliminary work on a website that would be a lead generation tool for schools. They are talking about creating a website for the WA State Massage Schools that would be a lead generation tool that would be the “Massage Changes Lives” campaign – or something like that.

Then the next presentation was from a guy who specialized in getting students in the door and signed up for school.   Lex from www.theartofadmissions.com , went on to talk about how schools could improve the number of students in their school by having specific ways of talking with them and following up with them.  Schools need to figure out what people are really wanting. they need to move toward selling the dream.

But here is the thing.  Someone in the room had mentioned that AMTA statistics show that the average salary for a MT in 2014 was $22,000 a year.

Hello???  What is missing from this picture?

What is missing is that the massage profession is getting a bad image from all of those low paying franchise jobs, the many franchise complaints and law suits and NO ONE WANTS to go through massage school – one year, $12000 and be paid minimum wage jobs with no benefits!

The franchises come back saying that the jobs are entry level jobs.  The high turnover makes them entry level jobs.  Of course each franchise is different and the pay varies greatly as does the policies of the owners.    Many will stay in these jobs mainly because THERE ARE NO other higher paying jobs – at least no enough to sustain the demand for jobs…

I just counted over 1732 Massage Franchise locations:  Massage Envy – 1078, Elements – 175, Hand and Stone -216, Massage Heights – 128, LaVida – 56, Massage luxe – 38,  Massage Addict – 41 and that is not counting Green Spa of which I could not find a number. (as counted from reports on Entrepreneur.com).  If each franchise has 20 therapists (I am guessing!) x 1732 = 34640… that would be 34640 graduates needed out of 1316 massage schools…..  ABMP stats say:  The number of graduates from massage therapy programs in 2012 dipped below 40,000 for the first time since 1998.

So right now we have a culling of the massage profession – a thinning out of the herd.  Massage schools are closing.   Corinthian Colleges who owned many massage schools got in big trouble by telling the students that they could make a ton of money and then the jobs didn’t pay well and were not there leading them into bankruptcy.   -30 on the massage school count now.   It is also the small ‘mom and pop’ schools out there too. The NM Academy of Healing arts is struggling to get by.  See gofundme.com

See stories:  Huffington PostWall Street Journal.

So where this is all going, we don’t really know.

What we need for the Future of the Massage Profession.

  • What we need now is a sustainable career where people can make a LIVING giving massage.
  • What we need now are massage schools who start taking a stand for better jobs and working conditions.
  • What we need are more jobs and higher paying jobs.
  • What we need now is more massage therapists going back to starting their own business.
  • Or how about creating a franchise for clinical massage therapy that pays more to the therapists and hires only the top notch therapists?  just an idea…
  • What we need is an association or group of people to start standing up for us in getting massage covered by health insurance and yes there are a ton of issues around that.

How can WE make that HAPPEN?   What do you think?