In the greater economic world there’s a truism that in a recession colleges do well because more people enroll. It’s a truism because that’s what’s happened in past recessions; it’s well documented. However from my talking with Acupunks and reading emails and blog entries I think this recession will not be so favorable to Acu-schools: they will at most stay even and probably several (or more) will fail. Needless to say for private practitioners the failure rate will increase over the already bad 50%-80% that already exists.
The base reason why I am pessimistic on the short-term growth of the Acupuncture profession is that to me all the signs point to a market correction. There’s just so much flab while at the same time the debt load is huge with the profit margin small. I wish I could point to some studies on this but there are none and that fact is part of the problem. Acu-schools have traditionally kept their enrollment figures and their budgets to themselves or at the most shared them with friends at other schools. Thus it’s very difficult to get a clear picture. Even getting a simple number like the number of licensed Acupunks in the country is elusive, much less the number of actively practicing ‘Punks. But take this anecdotal evidence from Acupuncture Today and the Talk Back forum for Felice Dunas. Those responses plus info I’ve read that some Acu-schools are a) accepting every applicant they get (meaning they aren’t making their quota), and b) Acu-schools are having newly enrolled students leaving after one term thus driving the schools to cut costs so they don’t go into the red shows to me that almost all of the schools are right on the edge financially. That this is not a change from a year and a half ago when the Santa Barbara school abruptly closed its doors tells me that this recession will be no friend to the schools. The message is out that becoming an Acupuncturist is not a way to make a good living.
That the recession will spell trouble to private practitioners should not be a surprise. Neither should the prediction that boutique practices, particularly those who rely on herbal and supplement sales, will also feel the pinch. In fact one president of one of the larger Acu-schools has already said in a private on-line forum that the recession is hurting those practitioners. (Again, what drives me crazy is the secretive nature of the state of our profession. In the last couple of workshops that WCA has led we have heard from several attendees how different it is compared to other workshops where the Acupunks were competing with each other. Its a shame.)
So in taking what seems to be happening with both private practitioners and the schools, it looks to me like we are getting a market correction that will weed out both schools and private practices that to me have a lot of fat: they cost a lot and return little. In spite of the recession people will be hesitant to enroll since the word is out now of debt loads of $100,000 with a good chance of not making a large income (that elusive $100,000 annual income that some schools have promised their students).
Already a couple of schools have approached WCA about how to teach CA. And in last weekend’s WCA workshop in Boston we had more than a few attendees who used to have profit making boutique practices looking to change to CA because they are now losing money. They are desperate. (It used to be that almost all WCA workshop participants wanted to learn to do a CA practice because they felt philosophically attuned to WCA’s stance. That is less the case now.)
We (WCA) are also getting practitioners who are thinking that they are doing CA but failing and wondering why with the answer being that what the are doing is CA in name only. The practitioners here at CAN who know how to run a successful CA practice (which again is not everyone) know that the mindset of running a CA is quite different than running a BA (boutique clinic) but most Acupuncturists don’t know that. Thus it’s up to us successful CA practitioners to state plainly and firmly (while being polite of course ) what it means to be a successful CA, including understanding and appreciating class differences- which the great majority of Acupunks don’t (and many won’t).
I have some hope that in five years this market correction will shape our profession into one that will stand a chance at growing to be a real part of American healthcare. First though those chickens that we sent out for years- high prices, elite boutique spa treatments, faux western medical practices,and ignoring 79% of the American market- have to roost at home. The hope is that we as a profession will realize our dilemma.
In ending this post I just have to post a poem from Kay Ryan, Home To Roost:
are circling and
blotting out the
day. The sun is
bright, but the
chickens are in
the way. Yes,
the sky is dark
dense with them.
They turn and
then they turn
are the chickens
you let loose
one at a time
Now they have
the same kind
at the same speed.