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How Community Colleges Can Attract Students to PTA Programs

Physical therapist assistant and related programs can pave a path toward stable, long-term careers. Here’s how community colleges should market them.

Over the past few decades, physical therapy has become one of the fastest growing fields in the healthcare industry. However, the qualifications for becoming a physical therapist, while less grueling than a doctor, still require a bachelor’s degree and postgraduate education—training that takes years to complete and which is beyond the reach of many students. The good news is that, for students interested in a physical therapy career, community colleges have risen to fill the gap, offering two-year associate programs that qualify graduates for jobs as physical therapist assistants.

The marketing challenge for community colleges is two-fold. For some community colleges, attracting students can be a challenge, especially if they view themselves as in competition with four-year bachelor programs. In other areas, community colleges have so many applicants to their physical therapy programs that many prospective students end up on waitlists, even though there is high demand on the job market for these professionals.

Fortunately, in both these cases, a well-informed marketing campaign is the best response. Community colleges trying to attract PTA applicants can focus on the job prospects, while those already managing a waiting list can help inform their students about other options.

For community colleges seeking to balance this messaging, here’s what students should know.

What should prospective community college students know about PTA programs?

First of all, prospective students should know that an associate degree in a physical therapy program opens the way to a stable job in an in-demand field. This is because physical therapy assistants fill a crucial role in the healthcare system. Physical therapists themselves are often overworked, and their time is more expensive. They may have to split their time between patients, and can’t give each their full attention during sessions.

Physical therapy assistants bridge the distance, working closely with those recovering from injury or illness to help them regain mobility. They handle paperwork and other routine tasks, and may spend more time with individual patients than the actual physical therapist. This makes the job well-suited for those who have high patience and empathy and who enjoy working with others.

The large generation of boomers aging out of the workforce is opening up a gap in the medical system at a time when demand for physical therapy is on the rise. As a result, job growth in this field is expected to grow by 32% by 2030. PTAs with an associate’s degree earn a median wage of $23.64/hour, or $49,180/year. Those who are interested in becoming a full physical therapist will need to complete a bachelor’s degree, but some associate degree programs offer transfer pathways to four-year universities for students who decide this is the right option for them.

There are other associate degrees in healthcare with similar prospects.

While physical therapy assistant is the largest and fastest growing field, it’s not the only option available to students. Community colleges hoping to attract more enrollees should educate prospects as to the difference between programs, especially if they are at capacity. Many students would happily enroll in a related program if it got them off a waiting list.

A few other associate degree programs that may be of interest to those considering physical therapy include:

  • Occupational therapist assistant or aide. Occupational therapists work with patients to help them perform everyday tasks. They commonly assist the elderly or those with disabilities to improve their quality of life. They earn a median wage of $29.58/hour, or $61,520/year, with a projected job growth of 34% by 2030.
  • Respiratory therapist. Those who struggle with asthma or another serious breathing condition might work with a respiratory therapist. The average respiratory therapist earns $29.73/hour, or $61,830/year, and job growth is expected to rise by 23% by 2030.
  • Radiation therapist. As their name implies, radiation therapists administer doses of radiation to cancer patients or others suffering from serious illness. Radiation therapists earn a median wage of $39.80/hour, or $82,790/year, although unlike the other programs listed here, job growth is expected to remain stable in the coming years.

Content-focused multimedia marketing is an effective recruiting strategy for community colleges.

Whether your community college is trying to attract more PTA applicants or grow awareness for other programs, a robust marketing strategy based on informative, career-focused content is your best option. Many prospective students don’t enroll in community college because they are unaware of the options available to them. They may have never considered a career in a particular field because they are unaware of the job opportunities it opens up for them, or they aren’t sure if the lifestyle it offers would be a good fit. Many also assume college of any kind will lead to student debt and are afraid to take time off work to pursue a degree that may not lead to anything better.

The truth is that a two-year associate’s degree is not only affordable (or even free!) for students, it also opens the way for better jobs. Graduates with an associate’s degree earn an average of $7,300 a year more than those with just a high school diploma, and have an unemployment rate of only 2.7% compared to 3.7% for the same group.

With numbers as persuasive as these, it’s clear that the biggest challenge facing most community colleges lies in countering misconceptions about who is qualified for an associate’s degree while also helping prospective students find a career that will be a fulfilling option for them. This can only be done with marketing that digs deep into the job market for various associate degree programs and presents students with an honest assessment of what career in that field would look like.

At Aperture Content Marketing, we assist community colleges with these marketing efforts by providing a library of thoroughly researched articles as well as content distribution channels that include a print magazine, an online microsite, and social media posts. If the content marketing at your community college is in need of support, contact us today.

Community colleges benefit from a career-oriented marketing strategy. Read more from this series to learn how.