Factors Influencing Applicant Selection of Entry-Level Physical Therapist Education Programs in the United States

Article excerpt

Physical therapist education programs must compete for qualified applicants due to a nationwide reduction in the applicant pool. To develop successful recruitment strategies, faculty members need information on factors influencing applicant selection of a program. The purpose of this study was to analyze factors influencing selection of an entry-level physical therapist education program. Survey subjects were students enrolled in the first professional year of an accredited entry-level physical therapist education program. A survey instrument was developed based on the literature and interviews with physical therapist students and faculty members. Results of pilot studies to determine face and content validity were acceptable. Stratified random cluster sampling was applied to select 66 entry-level physical therapy programs from an available population of 150 of the 199 accredited programs. Forty-nine programs were not included in the population for various reasons. Using a five-point Likert scale, subjects rated the influence of 51 items on their selection of a specific physical therapist education program. The overall return rate was 70.4% (1,250 surveys returned). Data were analyzed by response frequency. Four factors were selected as "very influential" by 50% or more of the subjects: degree offered, accreditation status, perception of educational quality, and program atmosphere. Additional factors selected by 45% or more of respondents as "very influential" were pass rate on licensing examination, marketability of degree, student/faculty ratio, and small class size. Factors rated "not influential" by 50% or more of subjects included ethnic, cultural, and gender issues. Since 1998, the physical therapy profession has experienced changes in entry-level degree requirements, practice requirements, and employment opportunities, resulting in increased competition for qualified applicants to education programs. The information gained in this study may assist faculty in the development of recruitment strategies. J Allied Health 2005; 34:11-16.

SINCE THE MID-1990S, physical therapist education programs have experienced increasing competition for qualified applicants due to a decrease in the total number of applicants,1 a reduction in employment opportunities,2 an increase in the number of education programs,3 and a change in the entry-level practice requirements from baccalaureate to postbaccalaureate.4 With approximately 25% of applicants applying to two or more institutions5 and 199 entry-level physical therapist education programs accredited in 2001 by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE),6 programs must actively recruit applicants. Understanding the needs of students and the factors influencing program selection could assist program administrators in developing cost-effective, successful marketing and recruitment programs.7 This information could also assist university personnel in tailoring promotional literature toward specific target groups.8 Unfortunately, such information is limited.

Purpose

The purpose of this study was to analyze factors influencing selection of an entry-level physical therapist education program and to compare the findings with previous studies. Since the study by Ancrum-Smalls et al.9 in 1998, the profession has experienced changes in entry-level degree requirements, practice requirements, employment opportunities, and salary structures, resulting in a decrease in the applicant pool and an increase in competition among academic programs for qualified applicants. It was hypothesized that these changes resulted in a variation of the factors influencing program selection.

Literature Review

Numerous studies have investigated factors influencing undergraduate college choice,10-15 but limited research is available addressing factors influencing institutional choice for the health professions, especially in the field of physical therapy. …