Pick Your Own Price for Summer Camp
March 18, 2009, The New York Times — Anyone who has visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art is familiar with the pay-what-you-want concept that has obvious appeal to those unwilling or unable to handle full price.
Now that practice is coming to another cherished cultural tradition — summer camp — with a twist. The Y.M.C.A. of Greater New York will allow families to choose among three prices for its sleepaway camps in Huguenot, N.Y., this year, based on what they feel they can afford to pay. No paperwork required. No questions asked.
But the catch is that the lowest of the three rates ($978 for two weeks) is about what the camps cost last year ($990). So what the Y.M.C.A. is really offering is a chance for some families to pay more ($1,378 or $1,178).
Jack Lund, chief executive of the Y.M.C.A. of Greater New York, acknowledged that the so-called “honor code” tuition system is essentially a way of asking wealthier families to subsidize poor and middle-income campers in tough economic times.
But he said that higher operating costs and tough economic times meant that without the new system, camp would have cost more for everyone. And he said the tiered tuition would allow him to offer at least $400,000 in scholarships, $100,000 more than last year, to the camps, McAlister and Talcott, which serve more than 2,900 children, most of them from New York City.
The American Camp Association, which represents more than 2,400 camps, said on Wednesday that camps were working with families to make the experience affordable, but it did not specifically know how many were experimenting with tiered tuition. It said about three-quarters of its camps offered financial aid totaling $39 million annually.
Mr. Lund said his organization had previously used a tiered-pricing system to make membership, swimming lessons and gym activities accessible to more families. Of 47 families already registered for camp this summer, he said, 16 elected to pay the highest tuition, 14 the middle, and 17 the lowest.
“Our philosophy is we fundamentally trust people,” he said. “We’d rather treat 99 percent of our camp families with respect and get beat by 1 percent than treat them all like we don’t trust them.”
Victoria Bruce, 40, a social worker and a single mother, said she chose to pay the middle price — or $2,356 for four weeks — for her son Jabari, 12, even though she could have paid $400 less. Though she was tempted, Ms. Bruce said, she felt that “it was the right thing to do.”
“I’m sure they have overhead, counselors and food they have to supply,” she said. “I don’t want to short the camp of the programs they have to offer.”