In recent years, entry-level diver training courses have become commodified. Whether this process has brought more long term growth to the industry, I don't know. But one thing is clear: more and more people are finishing entry level group courses and then just dropping out. (or dropping out before finishing).
A lack of skill, competence and confidence are cited as main reasons that new divers drop out, which suggests that off-the-shelf group diving courses don't provide enough training. Cheap commodity pricing might draw more people into "checking out" the sport, but it takes proper training and a broader diving education to keep a new diver committed. Commodified training might be turning scuba diving into a bucket list kind of sport, where anyone with $500 to blow can check it out, learn some basics and go on 4 dives, then decide whether to continue with the sport or just drop out of it.
These are my impressions, based on a limited view of the industry. Here's an article taken from Undercurrent, a diver magazine, written by one of the most senior, experienced and well informed people in the diving world.
Incidentally, PADI doesn't discourage or prevent instructors from extending their course offerings to more fully educate and train new divers beyond the bare minimum of an off-the-shelf course. But less than 1% of newcomers are willing to invest in that proper training.
One of the main problems with the diver training industry globally is that there are few barriers to entry, so there are too many dive instructors and dive shops worldwide, competing for market share, mostly on price. This race to the bottom ensures that only the minimum bare- bones training is provided to newcomers, with little or no mentorship.
At Vancouver Scuba diving school, we exist to train and educate divers, not to compete on price for market share and dominance. We've taken the off-the-shelf PADI Open Water Diver course and expanded the training and practice time by 50%. And you'll get this training one-on-one, not in a group of 8 strangers.
Here's a link to Undercurrent.