The New York Times - Thursday Styles
By MANDY KATZ
KRISTEN BARNETT, a high school sophomore in Sherborn, Mass., hoped to multitask this summer, combining outdoor adventure and Spanish-language practice with meeting her school’s community service requirement. A volunteer tour to Costa Rica run by Global Works Travel fit the bill perfectly. But the price — more than $4,500 — did not. “We’re more nervous than we have been in the past” about finances, said Leslie Barnett, Kristen’s mother, who owns a small business and whose husband works in software.
The solution? Kristen will cover half the fee with baby-sitting, refereeing youth soccer and cash from her grandmother, while her parents will stint on upkeep. “Our house needs to be painted, our driveway should be paved, and the cars need work,” Ms. Barnett said. “We are really stretching to make this work.”
A tight job market and recession budgeting may fall hardest on high school students who depend on summer job income. But now they pose a challenge even for affluent teenagers, as families that might once have readily paid for service-travel, precollege courses or sleep-away camps reconsider their options.
Still, even as consumers cut back on everything from taxis to Tiffany, families like the Barnetts are scraping together steep fees to keep their children challenged this summer. At a time when the overall travel industry is in a slump, operators of camps, and educational and volunteer travel programs say they are surprised at the sustained interest. As for parents, many tend to echo the programs’ marketers and describe them in terms like “investment” and “value.”
Programs with price tags of $1,000 to $2,000 or more a week are proving relatively recession-proof. Applications for precollege programs at Boston University, Amherst, Carnegie Mellon and other institutions are near or above last year’s levels, directors say; some — like Brown University’s — are expanding.
Service programs like Global Works, with trips ranging from 20 days in Nicaragua for $3,195, to a 27-day French home stay for $6,195, report interest only slightly below last year’s. Global Leadership Adventures, which runs tours to Africa, Asia and Latin America, has enrolled 50 percent more students this year than last, and B’nai B’rith Youth Organization is filling seats on its Israel tours. The American Camp Association, with 2,800 member camps, predicts that, after a late start to the enrollment season, bunks will be nearly full.
The difference in 2009, program operators say, is that parents are deliberating longer and seeking discounts. They are also picking shorter, cheaper versions of programs. To offset the costs, many parents are also asking children to contribute and cutting back their own vacations.
“When you have a 16-year-old and he’s excited about doing something, you encourage it,” said Jill D., a lawyer in New York who asked that her surname not be published. She and her husband have canceled a family trip and their own summer vacation to free up $5,000 for their son’s Caribbean scuba program.
Some companies find their strongest draws are cheaper offerings. Global Leadership offered just one short itinerary in 2008, to Guatemala. But most of its expanded enrollment this year is in programs lasting two weeks or less, costing about $4,000 total, said Andrew Motiwalla, executive director.
Scholarship availability influences would-be participants in the precollege program at Boston University, where teenagers study everything from filmmaking to engineering. Applications have risen for six-week programs, said Alexandra Adams, the assistant director. Requests for tuition assistance are also up substantially, spurring a 15 percent increase in allocations.
Some travel programs also offer subsidies. Global Works gives occasional $1,000 discounts as well as a few full-tuition grants, and increased such outlays by 30 percent this year, said Craig Fahey, an owner and director. The company also pushed back its March 1 deadline for nonrefundable deposits by a month. “We have a lot more questions about payment plans” from parents this year, Mr. Fahey added.
Natalie Lupowitz, a teacher from Oceanside, N.Y., and her husband, Howard, used a payment plan for a final year at Camp Scatico in Elizaville, N.Y., for their 14-year-old son, Lewis. As his contribution, Lewis has been working with his father at flea markets on weekends, saving the family the $120-a-day cost of an outside employee. “We all have to pitch in,” his mother said. “I think it makes camp all that much more worthwhile. He will remember, ‘I went and I earned it.’”
Allison Connors, a bank executive in Amherst, N.Y., is also relying on teenage sweat equity. Her daughter, Maddie, planned on a Spanish-immersion summer, but a six-week $8,000 trip exceeded the family’s budget. Working with a consultant, the Connors picked a two-week volunteer trip to Fiji that, with air fare, is about $2,500. (Ms. Connors said the $1,100 she paid the consultant, Everything Summer, helped her “know the full range of high-end program options.”) To help pay for it, Maddie will work the rest of the summer marketing her family’s fledgling online business. And the Spanish immersion? “Instead of doing it in Spain, you can do it in Buffalo,” at a Hispanic community center, Maddie’s mother suggested.
For students whose budgets exclude fee-based options, finding jobs and internships is a challenge. Even volunteer positions can require students to pound the pavement, cautioned Nancy Lublin, chief executive of DoSomething.org, which matches young people with grants and service opportunities. Perhaps competition is up from students unable to pay for camp or find work, she theorized. At Do Something’s New York offices, internship interest is so strong, they may be sitting two to a desk this summer.
Paying work is becoming even tougher to find, as under-employed adults are now “applying for jobs they’ve never been interested in,” like summertime restaurant positions, said Austin Lavin, a founder of MyFirstPaycheck.com, which offers job advice and entry-level listings. Still, he said, with luck and preparation, some students will find work.
Better yet to have experience, like Max Craft, 16, of Bethesda, Md. Max and his parents, a substitute teacher and a State Department economist, had thought this might be his year to splurge on a community service tour, said his mother, Karen Craft.
“And then the economy tanked,” Ms. Craft said.
So, when the garden store where Max worked last year asked him back at $7.25 an hour, “I said, ‘Honey, investment bankers are going to be applying for those jobs,’ ” Ms. Craft recalled. Exaggeration notwithstanding, Max took the position.
“Look, summers are still a little bit for resting and recharging,” said Deena Maerowitz, a college-admissions consultant in Brooklyn. “There’s a lot of pressure that they have to have the singular, most amazing experience to put on their résumé.” But admissions officers tell her, “It doesn’t matter to us if you climbed Mount Everest or if you started your own nonprofit or if you worked in a retail store. What’s important to us is what you got out of your experience.”