Despite Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals’ (ABMP) efforts to advocate for changes to the US Department of Education’s (ED) Gainful Employment rules in June 2023, final rules were released on October 31 that will likely greatly impact clock-hour programs in states with minimum clock-hour requirements for licensure or certification, including massage therapy. The new rule is flawed and, if not changed, will cause devastating collateral damage to schools, instructors, students, and the public. ABMP explains the new rule below and outlines potential advocacy steps schools may wish to pursue to work for a different result.
Explanation of the Final New Rule
Educational programs that are clock-hour-based, such as massage therapy, have historically had a rule for financial aid called the “150% Rule.” This allowed programs to offer more education than their state’s minimum requirements and remain eligible to offer students federal financial aid. Essentially, if a state had a minimum-hour requirement for a program, then a school could offer a program that exceeded the minimum hours by up to 50% and students would still be eligible for financial aid through Title IV. For example: If a state has a massage therapy minimum requirement of 500 hours, a school in that state could offer a massage program up to 750 hours (150% of the minimum) and remain eligible to offer federal financial aid.
As of July 1, 2024, for a massage program to remain Title IV-eligible, program length must be exactly what the state requires. Schools cannot deviate from this number, or the entire program becomes ineligible for Title IV funding. In essence, the new rule amends the 150% rule to 100%.
The ED’s reasoning for this change is based on the premise of saving the US taxpayer money. The ED believes that when a state arrives at a minimum number of required education hours that the state has made a reasonable judgment about how many hours it takes to be trained and ready to work in a profession. Therefore, Title IV financed hours in addition to that foundation result in an unnecessary taxpayer financial burden in the ED’s reasoning.
What Will Happen to Clock-Hour Programs
There is no “grandparenting” clause—all massage schools across the country with Title IV funding must align their hours to their state minimum hours by July 1, 2024 (ABMP believes this affects approximately 350 programs across the US). This change is for students who start on or after July 1, 2024. Students who start before July 1, 2024, will remain in a program that exceeds state minimum hours and remain eligible for Title IV funding. Schools will have a transition period where some students in massage programs will be subject to different hour requirements.
What Are My School’s Options?
Schools have multiple options:
- If your state currently requires fewer than 600 education hours, encourage your state legislators and regulators to increase the required hours for licensure to the Entry Level Analysis Project (ELAP) recommendation of “approximately 625 hours” necessary to prepare students for entry into the profession. (While “approximately” has not been further defined, certainly somewhere in the range of 600 to 650 hours would qualify.) Currently, 23 states require fewer than 600 hours for licensure. We can work together to advocate for reasonable, defensible increases to meet the ELAP recommendations across the country. In doing so, massage programs will be able to maintain quality curriculum offerings, while states will align with massage profession standards.
- You can begin the process to adjust your school’s program hours, so you are fully compliant by July 1, 2024. If you take this route, we recommend starting very soon because July 2024 is only eight months away. This is not a lot of time to complete the various steps needed to adjust program lengths. If your current program consists of more than 650 education hours, another downside is that your future graduates will have a less robust massage education.
- You can decide not to make changes and pull your massage program out of Title IV funding.
What Else Can Be Done?
Although the rule is final, communicating with your members of Congress can’t hurt to apply some level of pressure on the ED. ABMP has learned of some effort to fight this through legislation and will share any action steps identified to aid in supporting the effort.
At a minimum, notifying your local representative and senators explaining the impact of the rule change is an appropriate first step. We have attached an advocacy template for you to use in reaching out to your elected federal government officials.
If you don’t know how to find your elected federal officials, find your state senators here and your representatives here. Even if you are in a state that has a high number of educational hours, ABMP urges you to advocate for schools in states that have fewer required hours. Ultimately, this affects the entire profession, from barriers to entry to licensure by endorsement processes to mobility complications. In addition, you may wish to send a copy of your correspondence to U.S Representative Lloyd Smucker, a Republican who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee and the Budget Committee. He is an advocate for regulatory relief from rules that hamper small businesses. He has introduced an amendment that, if passed, would stop the ED from enforcing elimination of the 150% standard.
ABMP intends to advocate for reconsideration of the rule change at the federal level as well as work with states now requiring fewer than 600 hours to seek changes to their education requirements. Our Government Relations team will be working with our partners and state and federal leaders to find solutions that work for schools and students. We will be in regular contact with any updates we receive.
If you have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.