Here’s Some Back-to-School Math

Hi comrades,

we're back to school at POCA Tech so this seems like a good opportunity to share some numbers!

ACAOM kindly posted some data about acupuncture school enrollment, here.

There's lots to be said about these numbers and I'm hoping you'll share your thoughts in the comments. Here's what I've got at first glance:

1) Everybody I talk to who's affiliated with acupuncture education brings up the topic of declining enrollment, and the trend is pretty clear if you look at ACAOM's table. We're working on getting data from our Job Task Analysis published, but here's a teaser: the average student debt load from the 1200+ responses was $109K.

If the average acupuncture graduate has $109K in student debt, no wonder people are not flocking to enroll in acupuncture school, not when the average income is nowhere near that. According to the NCCAOM's last JTA:

What was your total gross income before taxes in the last year as an AOM practitioner?
•21% – $20,000 or less
•22% – $20,001 to $40,000
•18% – $40,001 to $60,000
•11% – $60,001 to $80, 000
•7% – $80,001 to $100,000
•11% – $100,001 or above

60% under 60K: this lines up pretty neatly with the average income number we got for all respondents in our JTA, which was 58K.

2) If there are about 7000 acupuncture students enrolled at any given time, that means there are about 1700 graduating every year. This also fits with the NCCAOM data for 2015, where they reported about 1700 applications to sit for the exam. (This might be slightly inflated by people taking the herbal test for new states requiring it, because the NCCAOM reported about 1500 applications to sit for the exam in 2012, when there were over 8000 students enrolled in Master's programs.) Anyway, let's assume somewhere between 1500 and 1700 people graduate from acupuncture school every year.

If even 10% of those graduates were opening POCA clinics or getting hired by POCA clinics, we'd be seeing an increase of 150 new clinics a year, or 150 new hires at POCA clinics that desperately need workers.

We're, um, not seeing that. My guess is that it's more like 1%: 15 or 17 people a year getting hired by POCA clinics, or maybe opening their own POCA clinic. IF THAT. The POCA Tech students who went to the last POCAfest reported that they were mobbed by eager would-be employers.

My point is: POCA Tech is the future of POCA, and of community acupuncture. There isn't another future out there for us.  If we want a future, we need to invest in it. This school year, please consider becoming a POCA Tech sustainer: at $5 a month, it's like buying a coffee once a month for the future of community acupuncture. (I know, I know — we're in Portland and the coffee's expensive!) But a little goes a long way with our school and your support means a lot.

Author: lisafer

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  1. “60% under 60K: this lines up pretty neatly with the average income number we got for all respondents in our JTA, which was 58K.”

    I honestly wouldn’t have expected the average income to be 58K. I didn’t think it would even be that high.

  2. We only know the average at this point, and we made an effort to reach out to the higher-earning segments of the profession (fertility specialists) so there may have been some skewing of the average. We hope to have more info soon.

  3. Actually, for our JTA, we were very careful to make sure it was take home we asked about. So I think that’s right (we can double check when we publish the JTA data, but I’m pretty sure). But this is where the limits of our JTA, like the NCCAOM’s, really show: 1200+ responses out of 20K-30K L.Acs has the potential to leave out the people who are struggling so much in the profession they wouldn’t even bother to answer a survey, because they’re halfway out the door. The majority of respondents to our survey said they would recommend acupuncture as a career, even with caveats. It was the minority who said no, it totally wasn’t worth it. Nonetheless, if the average loan burden is 109K, 58K average take home means the overall math still doesn’t work. I think the decline in student enrollment reflects some people at least beginning to do the math.

  4. I don’t consider the DAOM numbers to be relevant, since they don’t change the # of people in practice. The PD #’s could be relevant, if we ever get to see them. I suspect, though, they’ll be people who would otherwise be getting a Masters rather than pulling new people into the field.

    I don’t think it’s “just” the income and cost of education numbers that are a factor in decreasing #’s of people entering the field. It’s such a messed up place in so many ways.

  5. Social media is playing a part too. Ten years ago unless you knew a bunch of acupuncturists you probably just knew the one you were going to, and if they seemed like they were doing alright there wasn’t a super quick way to look beyond that. Now it’s pretty easy to see what’s what in terms of searching for jobs, etc., as well as being in touch with groups of acupuncturists on fb and using that to evaluate the field. Even seeing what it is like to work for a school through sites like Glass Door will have an effect on people’s perceptions of whether it’s worth it.