After school programs have become a fixture in American communities. Strong programs provide opportunities for children and youth to have stimulating experiences that promote growth and enable parents to work. Nationally, nearly 7 million children participate. In New York City, in the Out of School Time (OST) initiative alone, nearly 55,000 children and youth have participated in 2011. Other NYC after school programs: Beacon Centers, Advantage After School, 21st Century Learning Centers and others.
The expansion has increased interest in three key questions:
• What program elements contribute to high quality experiences for young people?
• How can providers assure strong implementation of their programs?
• What does it cost to create these experiences?
This summary provides information about cost. Always a key factor in social services, cost has become increasingly important as cities and families struggle with reduced dollars.
In 2009, The Finance Project and Public Private Ventures published The Cost of Quality Out-of- School-Time Programs (http://www.wallacefoundation.org/knowledge-center/after-school/key-research/Pages/The-Cost-of-Quality-of-Out-of-School-Time-Programs.aspx). With support from The Wallace Foundation, researchers looked at 111 programs in six cities including New York. The program selection was guided by several criteria for high quality programs: staff/youth ratios, participation rates of young people and years in operation. As part of the study, to help local programs estimate their costs, the Wallace Foundation has created a “cost calculator.” (www.wallacefoundation.org/cost-of-quality).
For school year programs serving elementary and middle school youth, not including summer components, the average cost per slot is $4,320. These programs are in operation for just under four hours per day on average. For older teens, the average cost is $4,580.
For summer programs which are part of a year-round program, the average cost per slot for elementary and middle school children is $1330 based on 8.7 hours of programming daily. For teens, the average cost of summer programs is $1,420. Summer programs have lower hourly costs because of efficiencies, such as the cost of space, since they operate more hours each day than school year programs. In all cases, costs per participant are somewhat higher than those per slot due to the fact that not all slots are filled every day.
An important finding is that funding is from public and non-public sources, with about half coming from the latter. Sites rely on as many as five sources of funding. In a third of the cities studied, parent fees represent a significant portion of funds. Other non-public sources include private foundations and in-kind contributions such as for space and materials. In NYC, however, public sources are the largest source, given the scale of services and limitations on outside sources such as parent fees.
In the study, researchers found that local policies and program decisions are the major factors affecting costs. These policies involve such issues as the number of hours of service and staff to student ratios. Denver was the most expensive city, as it invests more in staff, program materials and space than the other cities (Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, New York and Seattle).
Not only the quality, but the number of hours young people participate is important. Researchers state that even in well-designed programs, participation rates of only a few hours per week should not be expected to produce large change in such things as skills or graduation rates. A valuable commentary on this question and suggestions for alternative and realistic goals can be found in the following commentary by Robert Granger and Thomas Kane (http://www.wtgrantfoundation.org/publications_and_reports/browse_reports/granger_kane_after-school).
In comparing the findings of the study to publicly funded programs in NYC, the recent Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) concept paper on OST programs for youth in grades K-8 offers per participant reimbursement of $1,900 – $2,100 for year-around programs including summer, based on 1,020 hours for elementary school and 413 for middle school children (http://www.nyc.gov/html/dycd/downloads/pdf/ost_2011_cp_6-24-11.pdf).
For high school students, DYCD offers two options in its most recent concept paper - for the year 2008. The first focuses on helping ninth grade students succeed in high school, since that grade is an especially important year in setting the stage for later success. For these programs, the total amount for a full year program of 200 hours minimum, including summer, is $1,350 according; for school year only, a minimum of 120 hours will be reimbursed at $900.
A second program described in the same paper, Transition to Adulthood, requires a fuller set of services and focuses on helping students with challenges such as poor academic performance, to graduate, enter college or employment as well as other outcomes. This program is year-round for 425 hours, offering a range of services during the school year and stipended work experience during the summer. Public dollars from DYCD are $2700/participant (http://www.nyc.gov/html/dycd/downloads/pdf/ost_hs_concept_paper1108.pdf).
Increasingly, after school programs are facing challenges from the declining funds available from governments, and, at times, from private sources as well. The small number of hours many cities are able to fund limits the impacts on young people and point to the need to develop realistic and appropriate goals to guide providers. The quality and numbers of staff are also important and are affected directly by funding levels. High quality staffing is essential. Programs must hire, train and retain strong leaders and build the positive youth/adult relationships that promote youth development. For example, the recent study of the Middle Schools Initiative of the NYC Beacons found that even student enrollment levels are associated with the levels of experience of Beacon directors and that the strongest Beacons are more likely to have an educational specialist or master teacher on staff (http://www.policystudies.com/studies/?id=37).
In NYC and nationally, local choices dictate cost, focusing on such things as the length and richness of the programs, student /staff ratios and numbers served. Cities face painful choices in balancing these factors with limited dollars. For NYC programs, state funds have declined about $18 million in the last 3 years. Despite this, New York City’s DYCD has sought to improve its programs by using research, data from evaluations of its programs and strengthening technical assistance.
The 90 page research study provides highly detailed information in a clear presentation. The averages cited above summarize what was found, but since there is great variation among programs and cities, it is helpful to look at the report itself to get a clear idea of the ranges and other detail. Bear in mind, also, that the study was conducted prior to 2009 and actual costs will have increased in the subsequent years due to inflation.
Information that helped in the preparation of this summary was provided generously by Sanjiv Rao of NYSAN (http://www.nysan.org). For comments: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peter Kleinbard is a consultant and writer.He has headed several large New York and national organizations including, most recently, the Youth Development Institute.