What Do Acupuncturists Earn?

That's the eternal question, right? And the answer is terrible, horrible, no good…oh, never mind. I can't even. This time, it's epically awful.

Last Monday, the Department of Education released its gainful employment statistics. In the mix was a spreadsheet “for informational purposes only” with mean and median annual earnings for graduates in 2014. Keep in mind that these statistics were gathered not by the schools themselves but by the government.  Also keep in mind that “median” indicates that half the graduates earned less than this amount, while half earned more; “mean” is simply the average of what graduates earned.

The median numbers are making my eyes bleed.

Two of my comrades who are as obsessed with this kind of data as I am rummaged through the earnings spreadsheet. We didn't find all the for-profit acupuncture schools, but we found a lot of them. Bonus points for anybody who can find the others — please leave the numbers in the comments! But don't leave the names; I'm listing only the schools' identifying numbers for reasons I hope everyone understands. And if you find any errors, please let me know and I'll fix them. You can get the list by clicking on the link that says Download the GE program earnings data; it will get you to a spreadsheet titled GE_SSA_EARNINGS_2014.xls. *edited 1/14 — Wade our tech genius found 26 programs, which I think is almost all of them. Revised below. *

Here's the list. Read it and weep. Or rage. Or something. I hope somebody does something.

id,      median,   mean,
025460, $24,362 , $35,012x
025460, $33,423 , $52,471 (note: this is an herbal certificate program for established graduates and not an entry level degree –also, this certificate is specifically marketed to physicians)
026220 $17,260 , $22,590
030277, $20,665 , $26,457
030612, $21,478 , $29,572
031533, $9,797 , $26,617
031533, $24,372 , $34,127
031564, $14,092 , $19,747
031795, $10,977 , $17,316
032383, $8,423  , $19,960
032803, $16,256 , $24,070
034145, $13,598 , $24,551
034145, $18,552 , $20,639
034297, $15,424 , $23,820
035344, $10,512 , $17,334
036175, $15,000 , $25,752
036955, $25,155 , $28,743
037353, $18,651 , $27,532
038333, $16,251 , $23,504
041464, $12,761 , $18,018
026090, $10,003 , $17,688
030277, $14,045 , $17,928
030277, $16,362,  $22,191
030612, $24,579 , $29,890
036863, $21,379 , $20,177
039953, $26,400 , $41,175

Author: lisafer

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Conference Keynote: Breaking the Ceiling

The theme for this conference is “Breaking Barriers”. You know, there are so many barriers to break in acupuncture that it was really hard to choose which ones to talk about for this speech. But since I’ve spent so much time talking about classism as a barrier, I thought it might be fun to shift gears a little and talk about numbers.


  1. I can’t stop- it’s the proverbial train wreck

    030277 has either 3 degree programs, or 3 locations?

    a) mean $26457 median $ 20665

    B) mean $17928 median $14045

    C) mean $22191 median $16362

  2. @David — I think it reflects a cohort, which is probably more than one class, but I can’t remember how the DOE defines it exactly. On the spreadsheet it describes how many graduates they’re talking about.

  3. Each cohort is made of alumna from 2 years prior. They allow the first two years as a normal ramp up period. So 2014’s cohort actually graduated in 2012. They also have the 2011 data up.

  4. 2015 Federal Poverty Guidelines – 48 Contiguous & DC
    Persons 100% Federal Medicaid eligibility*
    in Household Poverty Level threshold 138% FPL
    1 $11,770 $16,243
    2 15,930 21,984
    3 20,090 27,725
    4 24,250 33,465

  5. I sure hope this data helps protect prospective students as they are considering using loans to pay for an acupuncture education. Such horrible, though not surprising news. Of course, the Title IV money is on the line with the new gainful employment regulations.

    The other spreadsheet on that page shows whether the schools each passed the gainful employment test: are they preparing students to work in a recognized profession such that they can reasonably expect to earn enough to repay their educational investments? There was only one passing program (that herbal certificate for physicians) among the 16 that show up on the debt-to-earnings (D/E) spreadsheet. I am guessing that only 16 of the programs show up because they required a cohort of 30 or more students to have a big enough sample to calculate D/E.

    My school fails miserably. A passing D/E is 8% of Annual Earnings. So that means, at my salary of $38,000, my monthly payments should be about $253 at 5% for 10 years. Yeah, that seems manageable. Like a car payment. So I could have reasonably borrowed $23,850 for my education. (Ahem, anybody know a school that costs that?) Instead of 8%, my school came in at 23.87%. Basically 3x the acceptable limit. So more like $759/mo. More like a mortgage than like a car payment.

  6. 034145, $13,598 , $24,551
    034145, $18,552 , $20,639 ( this entry is for a massage program, interesting though b/c in this case the massage grads (much shorter program) are making more than the acu-grads )

  7. crismonteiro writes:

    I can’t stop- it’s the proverbial train wreck

    030277 has either 3 degree programs, or 3 locations?

    a) mean $26457 median $ 20665

    B) mean $17928 median $14045

    C) mean $22191 median $16362

    You want listing a: it is the acu program, the other two listings are for Asian bodywork therapy program

  8. So looking at totals,

    The listed acu-schools have a total here of 1029 in the “verified student count”, which i believe to be the number of unique data points. Considering that the acu-profession in the U.S. has a revolving total around 29 – 30,000 Lacs, it would seem that 1029 is a fair sampling numberwise. One caveat here is that these numbers may reflect newer grads if based on a 2014 cohort ( I am unclear on that point).

    Median SSA earnings across the dataset are 17,861.65 and the mean SSA earnings are 26353.17. There are different arguments online as to which is a better reflection on a dataset, mean or median.

    Are acu-grads typically informed that the best case scenario for earning a living upon graduation is around the mean – $26353. ( or median $17.8K)? I think not.

  9. *swoon*

    Keith, I was just thinking about how I wished somebody would do that particular bit of math.

    I think the numbers definitely reflect newer grads (with the exception of that herb certificate program) but if we believe that attrition is high in the first 5 years of the profession, isn’t it a really good idea to know what new grads are making? This is what they earn before they give up and stop practicing altogether.

    Also, somebody please correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the last NCCAOM Job Task Analysis based on 1400 responses? And the one before that, 700?

    I agree that this data is as good as anything else I’ve seen. It’s a sample from half the acupuncture schools in the country, and while some schools are doing better than others, we’re clearly looking at a pattern in the profession, not a problem with individual schools.

  10. I agree that it is good data. 1029 data points across 25 schools ( out of 60ish school progrms). It underlines what it is already known. There are hardly any jobs for acupuncturists when we graduate to be hired for, we all mostly have to make jobs for ourselves.

    One of the counter-arguments i have seen in another online forum to this data is to say that the data is corrupt or unreliable. It was collected by schools, grads aren’t reporting true income, this is gross/net income, etc.

    I don’t think this argument holds up because the data spans 25 schools all over, and includes 1029 people ( out of 30000 Lacs nationwide).

    The median data seems relatively consistent across the board, and correlates/reflects the high initial five year failure rate. Schools need to be honest and consistent with prospective students and tell students what the median is for new grads and make sure they aren’t sugarcoating it by saying that people will make 50K the first year and 100K within 3 years ( also heard online).

    The only thing I can think of at the moment is for schools to rethink and majorly increase the business training aspect of the curriculum so students come out more well prepared to be self sustaining because the acupuncture job landscape is not and has not been drastically changing over time.

  11. That argument about the data being unreliable because it was collected by the schools…?? It came from the Social Security Administration:
    “As described above, the SSA calculates and returns to the U.S. Department of Education (the Department) the mean and median annual earnings of a cohort of students who completed the GE program during a specified cohort period. At least 10 completers from a program must be matched for SSA to return mean and median earnings information for disclosure purposes, while there must be at least 30 students in the cohort sent to SSA for the Department to calculate D/E rates. In calculating a GE program’s D/E rates, the Department uses the higher of the SSA-reported mean or median earnings. SSA does not provide the Department individual earnings data or the identity of any students.”

  12. MichelleRivers – this makes more sense – SSA must match the social security numbers and income of grads and somehow these are linked to schools they graduated from, probably through financial aid info/SS numbers. So these income numbers are not self reported by the students and through the schools to ED, the data comes directly from SSA to ED. One person in another forum thought that all income numbers were self reported through the schools and therefore questionable. Since the numbers are coming directly from SSA, then I think these income numbers are more reliable than the JTA analysis ( based on self-reporting).

  13. Not only that, but because the SSA is collecting the data, we know this is *net income* and not gross, or not a mix of gross and net, as with other income data for acupuncturists. This is what people are taking home. And so probably there is some under reporting of cash, but given the overall numbers, not enough to change the overall pattern we’re looking at here.

  14. I’m curious: do we know if the averages and means include people who responded $0, or is it only people earning money from practicing acupuncture? That might tell us a little more, but still, these statistics are really sad.

  15. So as far as I know, these numbers simply reflect what people earned, period, not necessarily what they earned from acupuncture, which means there are probably a bunch of people who earned $0 from acupuncture in this data.

    Given the consistency of the numbers across the list of schools, though, I think you can say this is what people earn when they are *trying* to practice acupuncture, before they give up and go back to their tech jobs or their nursing jobs, etc.

  16. seeing this while looking at a room full of snoozers is bittersweet, melancholic, or something

    I am getting a deep feeling of the super-tenousness of the history of acupuncture and the people

  17. Yes yes yes. This is where I don’t know what you’d do if you didn’t have an ability to talk about structural violence, economic violence, because that’s what the problem is.

  18. I just saw this article in my in box: Feds say Southwest Acupuncture college is failing it’s students. The key sentence: “The report, based on 2010-12 data, gave the Southwest Acupuncture College a failing grade, saying graduates earn a median of $17,260. That school’s website says tuition runs from about $57,000 to just under $70,000 for a degree.”


  19. What would be really sad is another column next to the Mean and Median showing amount of student loan debt upon graduation. Then the real story would be told in summary form.

    I was recently talking to an acupuncturist about working at my clinic and they did not feel that they could live on the starting $37,000 a year wage I was offering for a 30 hour per week job. I had to try and gently explain that expecting $40-$60,000 a year to start is not realistic. Here are the numbers which prove I wasn’t making it up. (I dont think they believed me)

  20. Holy Shit.
    Isn’t there a bill that was going to be passed under Obama that would fine schools that didn’t have the aforementioned job data available for prospective/current students? Oh well, that’s all water under the Cheeto-man bridge now.

    Thank you thank you for doing the work to make this information available Lisa and others.

    Cohort 2, POCA Tech

  21. I didn’t look for my school when this first dropped. Now that my school no longer offers a Master’s program and will only offer the doctorate program, I thought to looks at this again. I can’t find my school on this list. Does anyone know what that means?