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Spiking demand, growing barriers: The trends shaping afterschool and summer learning in rural communities

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Spiking demand, growing barriers: The trends shaping afterschool and summer learning in rural communities

In 2014, there were 3.1 million rural children not in an afterschool program who would have participated in a program if one were available to them—roughly three times the population of Rhode Island. New data from the report, “Spiking demand, growing barriers: The trends shaping afterschool and summer learning in rural communities,” shows that in the years since the last survey, this number is even greater and now totals 4.5 million rural children who would be enrolled in an afterschool program if they had access to one. The data also reveals that during the 2019 summer, 2.9 million rural children not in a program would have been enrolled if one were available.

Based on a survey of parents or guardians of school-aged children living in a rural community, “Spiking demand, growing barriers,” provides insights into the current afterschool and summer program landscape in rural America, in particular the significant unmet demand in rural communities, comparing and contrasting the experience of rural parents to their non-rural counterparts. It also examines the differences that exist within rural communities and between previous America After 3PM surveys. Through the findings, the report discusses the lessons that can be drawn to help increase access to afterschool and summer programs in rural communities.

Key findings from the report include:

  1. Rural communities see a sharp rise in unmet demand for afterschool and summer programs. The 2020 America After 3PM survey finds that 4.5 million rural children who are not in an afterschool program would be enrolled if a program were available and 2.9 million children not in a program during the 2019 summer would have been enrolled if one were available to them. Unmet demand for afterschool programs at the child level grew from 39 percent in both 2009 and 2014 to 47 percent in 2020. Similarly, unmet demand for summer programs grew from 39 percent of rural families in 2008 to more than half of rural families in 2019 (54 percent).
  2. Increasing barriers to participation and a growing recognition of the benefits are driving unmet demand in rural communities. Among rural families, reports of barriers to participation have increased by double-digit percentage points from 2014 to 2020, including the cost of programs, children not having a safe way to and from the afterschool program, inconvenient program locations, and the lack of available programs in the community. For example, 29 percent of rural parents surveyed in 2014 without a child in an afterschool program said that the lack of available afterschool programs in their community was an important factor in their decision not to enroll their child. Now, 45 percent of rural parents report that program unavailability was a factor.

At the same time, the America After 3PM study finds that an overwhelming majority of parents living in rural communities agree that afterschool programs benefit children and families, and that positive attitudes toward afterschool programs have increased over time. For instance, a greater percentage of rural parents now agree that afterschool programs help children gain interest and skills in STEM (from 62 percent in 2014 to 75 percent in 2020) and that programs help working parents keep their jobs (from 72 percent to 79 percent).

  1. Inequities exist—unmet demand and barriers to participation are greater among communities of color and families with low incomes. Rural families with low incomes and rural families of color are even more likely than rural families overall to report challenges related to the cost and availability of afterschool programs. Examining differences by income level within rural communities, compared to rural families overall, a higher percentage of rural families with low incomes report that afterschool programs are too expensive (55 percent vs. 59 percent), there is not a safe way for their child to get to and from programs (50 percent vs. 56 percent), program locations are inconvenient (47 percent vs. 50 percent), and there are no programs available to them in their community (45 percent vs. 47 percent).

There are also differences by race and ethnicity within rural communities. Overall, rural parents of color are much more likely than rural parents on average to report that lack of a safe way to and from afterschool programs, inconvenient program locations, programs’ hours of operation, and a lack of programs available in their community are important factors preventing them from enrolling their child in an afterschool program. For instance, 69 percent of rural Asian American, Native Hawaiian, or other Pacific Islander (AANHPI) parents; 59 percent of rural Black parents; and 56 percent of rural Latino parents report that not having a safe way for their child to get to and from afterschool programs is an important reason they did not enroll their child in a program, compared to 50 percent of rural parents overall.

  1. Support for afterschool and summer learning opportunities is high in rural communities. With more than 9 in 10 rural parents reporting satisfaction with their child’s afterschool (92 percent) or summer program (96 percent), it is not surprising that support for afterschool and summer learning opportunities is strong among rural families. Rural parent support for public funding for afterschool in communities that have few opportunities for children and youth grew from 83 percent in 2009 to 84 percent in 2014, reaching 86 percent in 2020. Support for summer learning opportunities rose from 83 percent in 2009, to 85 percent in 2014, to 86 percent in 2020.

Based on America After 3PM data, the report offers a few strategies to help improve the availability and quality of afterschool in rural America, including:

  • Raise public awareness about afterschool programs in rural communities;
  • Improve afterschool program accessibility in rural communities; and
  • Increase supports for rural afterschool programs.  

You can find out more about afterschool and summer learning in rural communities by checking out the full report and executive summary, fact sheet, infographic, and America After 3PM’s data dashboard

"Spiking Demand, Growing Barriers: The Trends Shaping Afterschool and Summer Learning in Rural Communities" was supported by the Walton Family Foundation. The 2020 America After 3PM survey was made possible with support from the New York Life Foundation, Overdeck Family Foundation, The Wallace Foundation, the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, Altria Group, and the Walton Family Foundation, as well as the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

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