The Impact of Fee Waivers on City Youth Sports Participation

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November 21, 2016
By Marc Berk
The Impact of Fee Waivers on City Youth Sports Participation

Registration fees may impact the ability of low income youth to participate in public sports programs.  Although some programs may allow fees to be waived the application process itself might be difficult or embarrassing to navigate. In 2009 a demonstration project was conducted in Gaithersburg, Maryland to see if a facilitated waiver program increased program participation.

The Demonstration:
All children residing in Gaithersburg had the option of simply checking a box stating that they were a resident of Gaithersburg and were requesting a waiver of registration fees, for most programs the fee was $40. Many children living just outside the City limits enroll in Gaithersburg’s youth sports programs. These children were not eligible for waivers and served as the study’s control group. Waivers were automatically granted without any required documentation.

Key findings include:

  1. The number of waiver applications increased 1200 percent.
  2. A 16 percent increase enrollment was seen in the control group while overall enrollment   among those eligible for the waiver increased by 31 percent.  In Title 1 schools (which have high concentrations of low income students) enrollment increased by 78 percent.
  3. Little evidence was observed of program abuse. Despite the increase in waivers 85 percent of City residents chose to pay the full registration fee.
  4. Children who received waivers had high rates of participation in games and practices.
  5. While the program has a beneficial impact on participation the vast majority of children still did not participate in youth sports. The facilitated waiver was useful but not sufficient in obtaining high participation levels.


Practice Implications:
The demonstration was designed to show the potential impact of a fully facilitated waiver process. This exact model may not be feasible in all communities either because of financial reasons or the requirement to be accountable for public funds. If this type of waiver cannot be implemented, however, there are other policies which may also help increase enrollment by low income children. First, waiver fee requirements can be clearly stated so that applicants know whether there is a high likelihood the application will be approved. Second waivers can be tied to eligibility for other programs, such as free school lunches were eligibility has been previously ascertained. Third, if a program does not have fixed criteria potential applicants should be given a specific phone contact number so they can reach someone who is knowledgeable about waivers and hopefully bilingual. It should not be necessary for a parent to have to discuss their financial conditions with several people before obtaining assistance.

There are numerous economic barriers to youth sports participation. Many of these cannot be easily resolved by local policymakers. Local officials can, however, facilitate the fee waiver process and these findings suggest such action be considered.

Complete findings appear in:
Berk, M. & Moon, M.M. (2016). Effects of a Facilitated Fee Waiver Program on Participation in Youth Sports Programs. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 34(3).

About the Author:
Marc Berk is a  health policy researcher and a contributing editor to Health Affairs. He  has  published findings on a wide range of topics in the areas of access to care, health expenditures and  health survey methodology. He has been a volunteer baseball coach for over 20 years.

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