Missouri College Closes Suddenly And For The St. Louis Regional Massage Therapy Community This Is A Disaster
HAC President, David Kenyon, Gets Vocal About The State Of Massage Education In The St. Louis Region - And He Is Not Happy.
Missouri College was an important local player. It played a very important role in massage therapy training regionally in that it taught a very solid, technically sound, program that produced wonderful massage therapists. More importantly, they did this in a very different way than we do it. This created choice for students. Their classical, nuts-and-bolts massage therapy program used to allow us to hold ourselves out as the "alternative" massage school. This "outside-the-mainstream" identity was important to us. We prided ourselves in Facebook posts with messages like "Keep HAC Weird" and the like. But what happens when the Grateful Dead is suddenly at the top of the pop charts because all the pop bands have gone out of business? We needed Missouri College. HAC's holistic approach is simply not for everyone. For starters, our program is 100 hours longer than the one offered at Missouri College and more expensive because of the extended curriculum. Not everyone can afford an extra 100 hours of training. Many people need quality training in a direct line to a job and they need that line to be as short and straight as possible. We meander through things like transformational breath work and pranic self-healing. This is simply not everyone's cup of herbal tea. We have a non-vocational agenda.
It does not work to have only one flavor of anything. If you like HAC's organic rainbow sherbet, then you are in luck, but if you do not, then you deserve to have access to a school that will teach you the science of massage therapy in the flavor you prefer. If HAC is not for you, the worst thing that can happen is that you come to us simply because we are still open. A student who comes to HAC for lack of alternatives runs a risk being unhappy here. An unhappy student can, quite unintentionally, disempower an entire class. I have personally referred students to Missouri College when it was clear to me that we were simply not a fit for them. HAC's student satisfaction rating is off the hook and it stays that way because up until now students of every stripe and preference could find a school that fit them.
HAC's enrollment has been growing over the past several years, but instead of this being a sign of life for massage therapy education, the facts suggest that the opposite may be true. I have compared the current state of massage therapy education in the region to living at the deep end of a lake on an African plain. To us it seems like there is plenty of water because we are at the deep end of the lake - the part that drought evaporates last. But at the shallow side, where the resources are less and the competition is ferocious, the water is gone and there are nothing but the bones of those schools who were not as strong or well-positioned in the education market as we were. This is not a sign of success for us. Who wants to have only zebras in world? For starters, its lonely.
Since 2005, massage therapy as a service has been growing rapidly. This has been largely due to national and large regional massage therapy franchises that have brought massage therapy to the mass market by offering low price points, dependable service in a form that is "normalized" - in other words, clean, safe and moral. These companies have brought millions of Americans into their clinics as new massage consumers. There is just one problem: inexpensive massage therapy requires low-cost labor.
During the vocational education glut of the early 2000's, for-profit vocational schools were churning out massage therapy certificates often and to anyone with a pulse. This flooded the labor market and made it possible for massage therapy franchises to find the cheap labor that they needed to drop prices and expand the market. But since 2005, while the demand for massage therapy services has been going up, the wages for massage therapists have been dropping - radically. In St. Louis, average wage rates have dropped by 40% or more. This wage deflation drove many prospective students looking for a skilled profession to look elsewhere. At most schools, enrollments have been shrinking for a decade and many massage therapy programs and the vocational schools that offered them have gone out of business. At least seven or eight have died off in St. Louis alone.
This trend has not affected HAC because we do not teach vocational massage. We teach massage therapy as a holistic wellness modality. While many of our students graduate and go to work for the franchises to gain experience at the beginning of their careers, most are looking to take their place in the massage therapy profession associated with wellness and restorative health services outside of the spa or salon sector. HAC teaches massage therapy as a form of hand healing. Our education is personally transformational. Every student is required to learn how to meditate and do energy work. This approach has made us who we are. It is the "secret sauce" responsible for our success along with a legendary headmaster and the most professional faculty found anywhere. Despite this, we meet students for whom this is simply too much. Some have religious objections to parts of our curriculum. Missouri College was often a much better fit for these folks.
So how are we supposed to meet the needs of the current massage therapy industry when we do not care about the vocation, but rather, choose to teach an avocation? And yet, if we do not help the many clinic owners in the region reach economic equilibrium, it could destroy the industry as a whole and take us down with it. Our vocational school partners were an important part of this equation. They were never our competitors or our enemies. They filled a very important space that we have chosen not to fill. They were part of a very necessary diversity of education that allowed the educational community to meet the needs of every person of every walk of life who came to learn.
HAC will do everything that it can to help the students of the massage therapy program at Missouri College. This must be done because these students are vulnerable. They have extended themselves to take a chance on bettering themselves and their best bet just crapped out. It is our hope that every school in the region will come to their assistance. HAC will most certainly step up and pitch in.
In February, HAC will be sponsoring an industry-wide town hall event to open the long-overdue dialogue regarding the market inefficiencies that are hurting everyone associated with massage therapy. Until then, we will do what we can to help the newly abandoned massage therapy students from Missouri College so that they can take their place in a profession that desperately needs them. But at some point, the entire industry is going to need a make-over. Education, as it is offered in "business as usual" schools needs to be disrupted and regain its focus on virtuous education, personal transformation and providing students with the tools they need to become professionals in an honorable trade. Employers need to realize that that the peastantization of massage therapists has failed and is now creating a backfire that threatens the entire industry. The profession itself needs radical healing and we might have just a few things to say about that - along with the 8,400 students that we have trained in the past two decades. Clearly, the professional education and massage therapy markets are screaming in pain because they have their feet caught in traps of their own making. Maybe a little Reiki will help. Mostly, it is going to take compassion and a cart load of the most important element in all of human society - G.A.D. - "give a damn". Fortunately, we eat give-a-damn in our breakfast smoothies everyday at HAC. We are made of the stuff.
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