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Financing Physical Therapy Doctoral Education: Methods Used by Entry-Level Students and the Financial Impact after Graduation

By Thompson, Kris; Coon, Jill et al. | Journal of Allied Health, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Financing Physical Therapy Doctoral Education: Methods Used by Entry-Level Students and the Financial Impact after Graduation


Thompson, Kris, Coon, Jill, Handford, Leandrea, Journal of Allied Health


With the move to the doctor of physical therapy (DPT) degree and increasing tuition costs, there is concern about financing entry-level education. The purposes of this study were to identify how students finance their DPT education and to describe the financial impact after graduation. Methods: A written survey was used to collect data on financing DPT education, student debt, and the financial impact on graduates. There were 92 subjects who had graduated from one program. Frequencies as well as nonparametric statistics using cross-tabulations and chi-squared statistics were calculated. Results: The response rate was 55%. Of the respondents, 86% had student loans, 66% worked during school, 57% received some family assistance, and 21% had some scholarship support. The amount of monthly loan repayment was not statistically related to the ability to save for a house, the ability to obtain a loan for a house or car, or the decision to have children. Saving for the future (p = 0.016) and lifestyle choices (p = 0.035) were related to the amount of monthly loan repayment. Discussion: Major sources of funding were student loans, employment income, and/or family assistance. Respondent's ability to save for the future and lifestyle choices were negatively impacted when loan debt increased. Physical therapist education programs should consider offering debt planning and counseling. J Allied Health 2011; 40(4):169-173

ENTRY-LEVEL physical therapist education has moved to the doctor of physical therapy (DPT) degree. In 2009, 86% of physical therapist education programs offered the DPT.1 Tuition for the DPT has risen over the past several years, as has tuition for other fields and for post-secondary education overall.1-3 Concerns have been raised over the rising costs of a DPT education, the ability of students to finance their DPT education, and the impact of student debt on DPT graduates.4,5 Among health care professions, most of the research on financing education has been on medical school financing. Examinations of methods of financing medical school education and the factors that impact medical school applications, student debt, and career paths have been published in the literature and in reports by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).6-12 There are very limited studies that examine the financing of physical therapy doctoral education.

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) supports doctoral physical therapy education, and the APTA Vision Sentence for Physical Therapy 202013 states:

By 2020, physical therapy will be provided by physical therapists who are doctors of physical therapy, recognized by consumers and other health care professionals as the practitioners of choice to whom consumers have direct access for the diagnosis of, interventions for, and prevention of impairments, functional limitations, and disabilities related to movement, function, and health.

By December 31, 2015, the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), the body which accredits entry-level physical therapist education programs, will require the DPT as the degree to complete an entrylevel physical therapist education program.14

Financing for physical therapy education is one concern that has been identified with the move to the DPT.4,5 On average, physical therapist education at the doctoral level requires more credits, is longer for both didactic education and clinical education, and is more expensive than physical therapist education at the master's level.1 Information on physical therapist education programs is collected yearly by CAPTE from various sources and is available to APTA members as a fact sheet on the CAPTE website. A comparison of the mean total cost of professional physical therapist education programs for master's and doctoral programs as reported in the 2009-2010 Fact Sheet Physical Therapist Education Programs is presented in Table 1. Total education program cost includes tuition, fees, and other required program expenses such as texts, lab fees, and insurance.

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