In the last issue of Career College Central, we covered the hottest "new" programs that we anticipate will help grow and separate schools from their competition in the next decade. One of these programs, personal training, is just beginning to find its way onto the menu of offerings at schools throughout the country.
"The statistics speak for themselves," said Heather Machado, Director of Education at SBBCollege, who helped implement the Professional Fitness Institute program into schools in 2007. "There is no doubt that fitness trainers are in high demand, and this sector of higher education is best suited to meet that demand."
There is no doubt that this country is becoming obsessed with fitness. The proliferation of obesity and early-onset diabetes has finally caught the attention of the masses. In turn, the need for personal fitness trainers is growing at an alarming rate, considering the shortage of qualified, certified personal trainers. Consider these facts:
America has apparently woken up to the obesity, diabetes and heart disease issues, which are nearing epidemic levels, and people are looking for the experts to help them control their weight, cholesterol and blood sugar. With only 158,700 fitness professionals certified in 2006, according to American Sports Data, fitness facilities are desperately seeking qualified trainers. In some instances, individuals who do nothing more than read a book and take a test are being given ludicrous certifications. Some gyms are forced to hire inexperienced trainers.
There simply are not enough PTs certified by the handful of nationally accredited certification organizations, led by NSCA, the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
"The greatest surprise was the quality of these young men and women and the energy they brought to our schools," said Brian Stewart, President of Bryan College. "This is a passion curriculum, and some of our students drive long distances every day because of their commitment to becoming a fitness professional. Offering this program has rewarded us with high-quality students, high retention and, most importantly, an energy and passion that positively impact Bryan College students in all programs."
While the core students are in the 21- to 28-year-old demographic, many of which were high school athletes who remember their participation in physical fitness and competitive activities as the best years of their lives, personal training still attracts a pretty diverse student mix.
"With two years now under our belts, I can see the balance of students spanning three different populations," said Guy Genske, Director of Pinnacle Career Institute in Kansas City, Mo., which offers Professional Fitness Institutes within their schools. "We get the 18- to 20-year-old who wants to be part of the fitness world but does not want four years of science. Generally mom and dad are quite supportive.
"There is also a growing 30- to 45-year-old student base, and these are some of our absolute best students. They are often people who have had personal success in the gym as adults and want to help others. Another nice benefit is the impact on 90/10. PT is the perfect fit for GI Bill students. We have had so much success with the military that we have one admissions person dedicated 100 percent to that demographic."
Ages of typical PT students tend to focus on the 21- to 28-year-olds (roughly 60 percent) with the 18- to 20-year-olds (15 percent) and 29- to 45-year-olds (25 percent) rounding out the mix. Gender mix is roughly 55 percent female and 45 percent male, with the younger students leaning male and the older students female.
While many fitness trainers, once certified, will start working at a gym, rehab clinic, community center or in a corporate wellness environment, the goal of many of these young men and women is to run their own personal training business. Either way, the potential for hard-working CPTs is enormous.
CPTs can be much higher
"We’ve had graduates come share with our students how things are going professionally," Genske said. "Some of the grads in just one year are well-established in their professions and often on their way to becoming managers. The next step is moving on to start their own businesses. While certainly not all grads can boast this, second-year incomes above $50,000 per year are not unheard of in this industry."
Despite the obvious viability of this program, it is taught at few accredited schools. In 2005, Purdue University claimed to be the first university to offer a personal training major, but few if any universities followed suit. Most universities are satisfied that Exercise Physiology, Kinesiology or Exercise Science programs are acceptable education paths for those who want to become CPTs. While the science aspect of these programs is outstanding, the hands-on component rarely prepares people to be successful CPTs.
Charles Ware heads Professional Fitness Institute, an organization that works with career colleges to implement a successful fitness curriculum, then takes the students through a week-long boot camp in Las Vegas. The event culminates with the students sitting for their NSCA certification exam. "Traditional universities teach you the science, but when you graduate, you only know half of what it takes to be a successful trainer," he said. "Training is a hands-on vocation, and if you haven’t had that hands-on experience, your chances of failure increase."
Obviously, unless a prospective student has four to six years to kill, the career college route is the better choice. Yet, less than 40 accredited schools nationwide offer the program, with more than half of the schools being part of the Professional Fitness Institute network.
In an industry that thrives on unearthing the latest, hot new programs, Personal Training is has already proven it’s one of the "in" ways to reinvigorate curricula. But it has its greatest strength now, while its availability is sparse, and the nation still has its share of people without a workout partner to whip them into shape.