Massage therapy continues to be a viable career, with more work opportunities—ranging from private practice, franchises and spas to eldercare facilities, hospitals and clinics—seeking qualified therapists than ever before. But the number of people enrolling in, and graduating from, massage schools is declining, according to a statement released March 24 by the nation’s largest professional massage association—which could signal the demise of education programs on the low end of the quality scale.

“Massage school student enrollments and graduations continued their decline from 2006 to 2008, even as the number of training programs for massage therapists continued to grow during that period,” according to the statement from Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP). ABMP has conducted biennial research on school trends since 1998

Enrollment has declined 11.9 percent, from 66,653 entrants in 2006 to 58,700 in 2008. Graduates from massage therapy programs in 2008 totaled 53,372, vs. 62,784 graduates in 2006, a decline of 15 percent.

“ABMP considers these results a continuing market correction that
began after the peak in school activity in 2004,” said ABMP President Les Sweeney. “We think that massage and bodywork school enrollment is in the process of settling into a more natural number.

Sweeney added that he believes the growth of massage programs has likely reached its end, and that the ABMP’s 2010 report could likely show a decrease in the number of schools.

“The current economic crisis could accelerate that trend,” he added. “The landscape has become more competitive. Those with quality instruction, passion for the field and effective student recruitment and support are more likely to thrive.”