Wrap-up: ABMP School Issues Forum 2009


2009 School Issues Forum

ABMP’s 13th annual School Issues Forum took place March 25-27, 2009 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at La Posada de Santa Fe Resort and Spa. The invitation-only event included school owners, directors, and key members of the massage and bodywork community. Attendees enjoyed an opportunity to network, educate, inspire, and talk shop with peers about school issues. Fifty participants from across the country—representing approximately 130 schools—discussed issues impacting massage and bodywork schools, and enjoyed Santa Fe’s southwestern culture.

The Forum’s backdrop was the welcoming La Posada Resort and Spa, a magical retreat just two blocks from the historic Santa Fe Plaza, art galleries, Native American jewelry makers, eclectic eateries, and shopping. When participants weren’t sharing ideas they were enjoying La Posada’s spa, eucalyptus steam room, fitness center, and restaurants. As one participant put it, “I need the downtime in a relaxing environment as much as I need the shared wisdom of respected colleges—the Forum gives me both.”

In the opening session titled, “There will Always be Room for a Good School,” ABMP President Les Sweeney, and ABMP Chairman Bob Benson presented ABMP’s freshest survey data and provided a perspective on what the future may hold for massage education. “The massage education environment has experienced dramatic changes over the past several years, changes that have been amplified by the greatest economic downturn this country has seen in at least two generations. An increased competitive environment, reduced funding availability, and changing consumer demand for massage and bodywork services have made running a successful, profitable school more challenging than ever,” Benson said.

Sweeney agreed and added, “While the survey results demonstrate a significant market adjustment, there will always be room for a good school, especially those that offer quality programs, excellence in teaching, supportive student services, differentiated marketing, and readily available financial resources for students.”

To better address the economic downturn and the challenges facing massage schools, ABMP ‘s education staff decided to craft Forum sessions around key areas that effect a school’s profitability. These areas include recruitment, admissions, accreditation, financial aid, student retention, graduate placement, alumni services, and assessing the impact of teacher standards on instructors and schools.

In one session, Lisa Seguin from ATI Career Training Center in North Richland Hills, Texas, facilitated small-group breakout sessions to generate ideas for cost-effective methods for recruiting new students. Groups completed planning forms for projects including the use of social networking sites like Facebook to interact with prospective students, high school outreach and student referral programs, effective branding, community programs, campus events, and job fairs.

Talk about wonderful timing. The Colorado School of Healing Arts (CSHA) received recognition from the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT) as a School of Excellence after its ACCSCT accreditation site visit last year. Gina Simpson from CSHA shared her knowledge of accreditation by serving as the moderator on a panel presenting each of the seven national accreditation agencies, their benchmarks, the process of accreditation. Of course she also talked about how today’s economy is shaping the financial aid environment and impacting students’ ability to get tuition funding. Benefits for vocational schools were explained including increases in Pell Grants and grants for education improvement, as outlined in President Obama’s economic stimulus package.

Student retention was a popular topic, too. Su Bibik of the Kalamazoo Center for the Healing Arts in Kalamazoo, Michigan, facilitated the “Education Strategies to Reduce Attrition” sessions. She asked participants to fill out a retention readiness checklist to assess their strengths and weaknesses around student retention issues. As a departure point, Bibik used the work of Dr. Watson Swail, author of The Art of Student Retention (an educational policy document developed for the Educational Policy Institute available at www.educationalpolicy.org) to explain the three factors that influence student persistence and achievement. These three factors are described as:

Cognitive factors relate to the knowledge and academic ability a student brings to the training program.

Social factors include parental and peer support, the development or existence of career goals, past experiences with education, and the ability to cope in social situations. Dr. Swail’s research demonstrates students have a difficult time when they are not socially integrated into campus life.

Institutional factors refer to how a school reacts to student needs and the impact of school responsiveness on persistence and student retention. An institution can help students overcome deficiencies in the first two areas by offering programs and services that meet the diverse needs of the student population.

After Bibik’s presentation, participants broke into small groups to develop plans for improving student retention on their campuses. Groups shared their plans and identified the role of each member of a school’s staff in retaining students and preventing unnecessary student drops.

A distinctive addition to this year’s Forum was the inclusion of exhibitors in a special panel titled “Supplier Insights” hosted by ABMP Chairman Bob Benson. Benson wanted to acknowledge that the exhibitors who represent their businesses at the Forum bring more than great samples and tools for schools. They freely provide valuable insights into the massage profession from their unique vantage points. John Goucher from Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Jeff Riach from Oakworks, and Bob Poirier from Performance Health/Biofreeze described how relationships between massage schools and suppliers are changing and how some of the innovations may impact goods, services, distribution, and sales.

In the final Forum session Anne Williams, ABMP Director of Education, presented information on teaching standards established by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) and asked participants to share their views on whether or not teaching standards should be established for massage instructors. The group collectively decided that a good first step would be the development of guidelines, but they—and the profession—were not yet ready for fixed standards.

The next ABMP School Issues Forum will be held in Alexandria, Virginia, April 22-24, 2010. For more information on attending or exhibiting, please contact Kathy Laskye (kathy@abmp.com).


School Issues Forum 2009

Session Handouts
> Accreditation and Financial Aid
> Always Room for a Good School
> Cost Effective Methods for Reaching Prospective Students
> Effective Admissions
> Project Planning form
> Reducing Attrition
> Retention Readiness Checklist
> Student Persistence and Retention Table
> Student Retention Plan
> Teacher Standards
> The Art of Student Retention