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Full Story

Physical therapist program survey identifies key issues

Mar 28, 2022

Higher education leaders have been increasing their reliance on and commitment to data and analytics to advance institutional goals, strengthen student outcomes and enhance teaching. At the same time, academic physical therapist programs are recognizing that they need more data -- both internally and from peer institutions -- to support their strategic planning and decision-making. 


To capture critical baseline data about Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) programs and how they operate, the American Council of Academic Physical Therapy (ACAPT) launched its first member Institutional Profile Survey targeting 95% of all accredited DPT schools in the United States. Seventy-nine percent (79%) of the programs responded, understanding that by sharing their data along with other DPT programs, each institution can learn from others. 

At present, there is no evidence-based single standard approach in DPT education but having data across institutions allows each program to decide if changes are needed to better achieve its goals and mission. One survey participant noted, “This survey made me think about how I am collecting data regularly for my program assessment and information on my grads.”  

Survey results reinforced and revealed important takeaways for academic physical therapy:

Career paths within PT academia are growing

Academic PT offers a career path with great opportunity as many of the profession’s educators begin to retire and new DPT programs are developed.  Survey respondents indicated there are 183 faculty searches underway as professors retire and accept other positions. Twenty DPT programs are currently in the candidacy stage and at least six more are in development, according to the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).

DPT programs are also encountering more turnover as long-time program directors and directors of clinical education (DCEs) with six or more years of experience are leaving their positions.

  • Over half (55%) of the DPT program directors have been in their position less than four years.
  • Forty-three percent (43%) of the current DCEs have less than 4 years in their position.

The workload required to manage a DPT program may necessitate more than one person with administrative responsibilities. A third (33%) of programs report having one or more assistant or associate directors and 43% have at least one full-time assistant or associate DCE. 

To meet the current and future staffing needs of academic PT, ACAPT encourages more DPT students and clinicians to consider a terminal doctoral degree and career in academia.   Approximately a quarter of the reporting programs offer a terminal doctoral degree in addition to the DPT degree. Accreditation requirements specify that at least 50% of program core faculty must hold a PhD or equivalent terminal doctoral degree, and all full-time faculty are required to have a defined scholarly agenda. 

The full pipeline for future faculty is unknown, as it is difficult for many programs to determine the number of DPT students who pursue advanced degrees and specialties after graduation.  

There are opportunities for increased DPT program influence, budget knowledge & authority

Program leaders have varying levels of independence in overseeing their programs. 

  • Sixty-five percent (65%) of the respondents – including 71% of public institutions -- do not have influence in setting tuition for their programs and a third don’t have influence in setting fees.

  • Half of the DPT program directors are not sure about the amount of tuition and fees applied to their program budget. Nearly a quarter aren’t sure how their program budget is determined. 

  • Over half of the programs have authority to set their operational expense budgets and about 80% have authority to allocate their finances. Eighty percent (80%) of the participating institutions – and 71% of the surveyed public institutions - have some ability to negotiate increases in their budget.

Not all institutions have discretionary funds in their program budget. Public institutions are more likely (82%) than private non-profit institutions (67%) to have these discretionary funds that are left to a director’s judgment for distribution. 

In an attempt to help expand DPT program influence and authority, ACAPT members narrowly passed a motion in October 2021 asking that all physical therapy educational units be designated as a department, school, or college of physical therapy by 2030, and the leader of the educational unit be a physical therapist who serves as the chair of that department, dean or equivalent. 

According to the motion, the DPT chairperson or dean should have autonomy of the fiscal resources and budgetary oversight of the CAPTE-accredited DPT program and report directly to a high-level administrator, including a dean, chief academic officer or equivalent.

While the motion is aspirational, complex, and may not be an ideal fit at all institutions, it represents a commitment to help DPT programs have a strong voice within their college or university. 

Clinical-academic partnerships are evolving

ACAPT members have identified transforming clinical education as crucial for academic PT; the survey responses help frame some key issues and reinforce that DPT education is evolving as it strives for more robust clinical-academic partnerships.

  • More than a third of all programs do NOT require any pre-admissions observation hours – while 38% require 26-50 hours, which is the amount recommended by ACAPT’s National Consortium of Clinical Education (NCCE) in their 2020 observation hours report.

  • Virtually all programs (97%) have required settings for clinical education experiences, with acute care/inpatient hospital facility, extended care/skilled nursing facility, ambulatory care/outpatient requirements, and private practice facility topping the lists.
  • There are relatively few weeks of full-time integrated clinical experiences in students’ first year, and they increase in year two. While the survey did not request the number of terminal experiences within programs, more than 50% of programs report having a terminal experience(s) of 21 or more weeks.

Clinical education management is demanding. All programs conduct at least some site visits during students’ clinical education experiences – and nearly 50% of programs visit every student during every experience. Moreover, 56% of programs have 301+ agreements with clinical partners. CAPTE reports a mean of 617 clinical education sites. Future surveys will delve further into clinical education within academic PT.

There is an opportunity for deeper engagement with clinical partners and their affiliated academic programs. The majority of academic programs report being actively engaged with fewer than 25% of their clinical partners. Engagement could range from guest lecturing and participating in faculty meetings to serving on an advisory board. 

Many programs offer benefits for clinical partners, such as continuing education (75%) or library privileges (47%). See the member-approved ACAPT motion about non-monetary benefits for clinical education experiences.

Programs identify DEI as a top area for improvement 

Many DPT programs would like to build upon their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.

  • Fifty-eight percent (58%) feel they have at least some room to improve to include DEI measurable outcomes in their strategic plan. 
  • Fifty percent (50%) note that they could better act upon collected data to improve the culture for inclusivity.
  • Forty-eight percent (48%) report they could better assess non-academic obstacles to degree completion.
  • Forty-four percent (44%) could improve in acting upon their own data to increase diversity in their student body.

DPT programs lack access to student financial aid and alumni data

About half of all programs report they do not have access to financial assistance and debt-related data for their students. For those programs that do have this data, at least 70% of their students are receiving financial assistance and have higher education debt.

Similarly, a third or more of DPT programs lack alumni data on fellowship, residencies, and advanced degrees. Many programs have information about their students’ employment, but 12 months post-graduation, about 30-65% of the participating institutions do not have data on APTA membership, or pursuit of advanced degrees or post-professional training programs. 

Review the full report

For details on all the 2022 Institutional Profile Survey responses, ACAPT members can access the full report at members.acapt.org. Non-members may email acapt@acapt.org with any questions.

ACAPT plans to conduct regular surveys to track and report trends about academic physical therapy. While this is the first report based on the Institutional Profile Survey, we expect more analysis and reporting in 2022 and plan to share more information at the October 2022 Annual Physical Therapy Education Leadership Conference (ELC) in Milwaukee.  We encourage all ACAPT member DPT programs to participate in ACAPT’s 2023 survey.


The core purpose of the American Council of Physical Therapy (ACAPT) is to lead physical therapy in the pursuit of academic excellence. ACAPT’s membership represents 95% of all accredited DPT programs in the United States. Learn more about ACAPT

About the 2022 ACAPT Institutional Profile Survey 

ACAPT launched its first Institutional Profile Survey in January 2022 to the program director at each of its 256 ACAPT member institutions. With a 79% response rate, 217 programs responded. 

Check out the Center for Excellence in Academic Physical Therapy


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