At what cost? Price tag of school activities limits participation for lower-income students

For middle and high school students, participating in school activities like sports, arts, and clubs can improve mental and physical health, boost academic performance, and increase the likelihood of graduation. But between school participation fees, transportation expenses, and equipment costs, the price of participating in school activities is a barrier - especially for lower-income students.

Parents of middle and high school students in the latest National Poll on Children’s Health reported about their children’s participation in school activities during the 2015-2016 school year. School pay-to-participate fees varied depending on the type of school activity. For sports, the average pay-to-participate fee was $139 per sport; each arts activity had an average participation fee of $116; the participation fee for each club averaged to $94. However, parents reported additional costs on top of school-participation fees, bringing up the average total cost for the school year to $302 per student in sports, $218 for arts, and $124 for clubs.

In households earning less than $60,000 per year, 27% of parents said the costs of school activities caused a drop in participation for their children. Additionally, 24% of children in lower-income families did not participate in any sports, arts, or clubs during the school year – which is more than double the 11% of children from higher-income families who didn’t participate.

Participation in middle/high school activities varies by income

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Since financial burden seems to be a barrier to participation in school activities even when schools don’t charge participation fees, it’s important for schools to identify students who aren’t participating in any school activities. These students might benefit from information about fee-waivers, scholarships, and other options to reduce the financial barrier that might be keeping them from the benefits of participation.

Read the full report: Pay-to-participate limiting school activities for lower-income students