The good, the bad and the homework behind this essential industry.
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December 16, 2020 3 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
We’ve all heard the complaints from otherwise loving parents: Sure they love their kids but not on a mandatory, 24/7 level. Remote education has created a pressure-cooker in the American family home. Desperate for social enrichment activities for their kids and, yes, a break from them as well, more parents are turning to afterschool programs in the commercial sector.
Related: The Motherhood Recession
The pros of nonprofits
A study released in October shows how these providers are meeting both the parental demand and the safety challenge. The Afterschool Alliance, a nonprofit group that advocates for afterschool enrichment activities, found that nearly three-quarters of programs targeting higher-income families remained open this summer and fall. Despite stringent public-health orders, the options that remained were physically (not just virtually) open to all students, except those with underlying medical conditions. What is notable is that options identified in the study were in the nonprofit sector and they remained remarkably resilient if they were located in more affluent areas.
The cons of the commercial sector
Meanwhile, for-profit afterschool programs are responding to the pandemic with novel ways to meet the demands of stressed-out parents and their stir-crazy kids. This sector, responsible for more than $22 billion in revenue in 2019, is experiencing unprecedented difficulties during the pandemic. Growth is expected to contract this year for the first time in decades.
But the pandemic is hardly the death knell for this end of the industry. Rather, afterschool providers are making the necessary adaptations to continue providing their services to families in the age of COVID-19 by adding more remote learning options, taking activities outdoors, reducing group sizes and adopting other safety precautions to continue in-person services. The afterschool sector’s ability to respond to the new demands of parents is not surprising as no other industry is as attuned to what working parents want for their children. For several decades now, the rise of two-parent professional families has driven the demand for afterschool enrichment activities that provide opportunities for academic, social, and physical development.
Afterschool providers in the commercial sector tend to specialize in a specific area, with STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) in particular demand as families prepare their kids for college. Sadly, nonprofit programs serving less-affluent parents are not faring as well: According to an Afterschool Alliance study, only about one-third remained open even as most of those serving higher-income children stayed in operation. Advocacy groups are calling for emergency funding to afterschool community groups in the next stimulus bill, which currently suffers from a stalemate in Congress.
In the meantime, parents should be aware that many afterschool enrichment activities are available for their children, whether in the nonprofit or the commercial sector, depending on their means. At their best, these services prepare children for academic and career success. At the very least, they can provide some much-needed relief to pandemic-weary parents.