One of the biggest sales tactics used to get a prospective student to enroll in a massage school is to use the “accreditation” label. The one distinct benefit of attending an accredited school is that by virtue of the accreditation, then approval by the US Department of Education (www.ed.gov), students are eligible to apply for federal financial aid, or Title IV funding. That said, there is more to accreditation than meets the eye.
The US Department of Education says: Accreditation is a good basic indicator of quality, although not every school chooses to be accredited. If a school is accredited by a nationally recognized agency, it means it has met certain quality standards established by the accrediting agency.”
The last part of that definition “it means it has met certain quality standards established by the accrediting agency,” is the most important part for you to consider as a prospective massage student. Accreditation basically means that the school has voluntarily agreed to have an external agency to review their administrative processes and policies. With VERY few exceptions (actually, I couldn’t find any instance where the quality of what was being taught was adequately checked) the actual massage classes are only reviewed for having a syllabus, and for having a teacher who has met requirements that the state or the accrediting body has determined are “adequate.”
As of the writing of this post, there are six nationally recognized accrediting agencies that accredit massage therapy schools. Since all accrediting agencies must follow the same basic guidelines, we’re going to focus on what makes each of them unique to massage therapy. All of the agencies are organized as nonprofit corporations with professional staff in the office, and lead by a Board of Commissioners representing the professions they accredit, or the public. While direct experience is not required to successfully manage or operate an accrediting agency, it certainly should be required to lead and determine the standards with which those agencies determine accreditation eligibility. In reviewing the composition of commissioners as they relate to each organization, the facts were quite interesting- or alarming, depending on your point of view. See for yourself.
ABHES (Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools): To be accredited by ABHES, you must be considered an allied health education program. There are no current commissioners with any apparent connection to massage therapy.
ACCET (Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training): To be accredited by ABHES, you must deliver education programs which prepare adults for a career. There are no current commissioners with any apparent connection to massage therapy.
ACICS (Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools): To be accredited by ACICS, you must be independent…meaning that you are not a public school. There are no current commissioners with any apparent connection to massage therapy.
COMTA (Commission on Massage Therapy Education): To be accredited by COMTA, you must be a massage or esthetics school (esthetics added in 2010). The COMTA website states that it will have 10-13 commissioners, and the website lists 12 seated members. Of those 12, there are 3 educators (2 massage, 1 esthetics),1 massage employer, 3 public, 3 practitioners, and 1 school administrator, who is also a practitioner.
COE (Council on Occupational Educator): To be accredited by COE, you must be a career or technical education school. There are no current commissioners with any apparent connection to massage therapy.
NACCAS (National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences): To be accredited by NACCAS, you must be a cosmetology, or cosmetology related school. There is 1 commissioner who is a massage practitioner/esthetician.
Accreditation also takes different forms…..either the institutional, meaning that the entire institute is accredited with a certain percentage of students enrolled in health care or massage therapy classes; or programmatic, meaning that the school has a massage program and ONLY the program is being considered. When you are considering a community college massage therapy program, it is entirely likely that the community college has institutional accreditation, and adds their massage therapy program as an extension. It is RARE to find a community college who has massage program accreditation.
Massage School A has institutional accreditation. It has multiple campuses and advertises on television. In addition to massage, they offer many other courses of study.
Because they have accreditation, they are able to offer their students financial aid. They enroll about 25-35 students per class and they graduate about 15-20. One year later, 10-12 of those graduates are still practicing in massage, but only 3 of them are practicing full time. Of those practicing full time, 1 is able to earn a living in massage therapy without any other source of income. Tuition cost: 10,000
Massage School B is not accredited. The only program they teach is massage. Because they are not accredited, they cannot offer financial aid, but they do have a payment plan. The average class size in Massage School B is 10, and they graduate 8 on average. One year later, 7 of those graduates are still practicing massage, but only 5 of they are practicing full time. Of those practicing full time, 4 are able to earn a living in massage therapy without any other source of income. Tuition cost: 5,000.
Which would you choose? How are these two schools able to produce such different results, especially when it appears one has such a big advantage? One has to balance the needs of the students with the needs of the organization at a very high level. One has to focus on the success of the students to ensure survival. If you refer one of your friends to Massage School A, it doesn’t have a great impact. If you refer one of your friends to Massage School B, it can have a significant impact. Who is more focused on making sure you are successful when you graduate?
Accreditation isn’t the end all be all of choosing a school, but it’s certainly one factor you can consider (for more help choosing a massage school, check out this post).
If you believe that accreditation is a must, click the links above to learn more about the organizations that accredit massage schools, and be sure to check out their experience with massage therapy programs.Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net