NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Academic Value of Non-Academics

November 17, 2011

With school districts struggling to keep their noses above budget waters and voters howling about taxes, schools are turning increasingly toward their student activities as a potential cost-cutting area.  But a growing body of research suggests there is a link between afterschool activities and graduating from high school, going to college and becoming a responsible citizen, says June Kronholz, a contributing editor for Education Next.

  • According to researchers, the odds of attending college were 97 percent higher for youngsters who took part in school-sponsored activities for two years than for those who didn't do any school activities.
  • Similarly, the odds of completing college were 179 percent higher, and the odds of voting eight years after high school, a proxy for civic engagement, were 31 percent higher.
  • Comparing activity-involved students with those who are not, three times as many of the prior group had a grade point average of 3.0 or higher and twice as many scored in the top quarter on math and reading tests.

Detractors of after-school programs have suggested that analysts are assuming causality in the majority of these studies.  Accordingly, they acknowledge the correlation between involvement and academic success, but they claim the relationship is reversed: students who are good at school are more likely to join clubs and groups.  However, several studies have controlled for this possibility and hold that at least part of the correlation is explained by activities improving performance.

This phenomenon has been explained through a number of theories.  Some believe that participation in activities allows students to spend more time with role-model adults.  Others have put forth that students who participate in clubs improve their social lives and are therefore more likely to find school as a whole to be a more enjoyable experience.

Finally, activities that take place after school seem to bridge the gap for students so that they can avoid those times of day in which children and teenagers are most likely to participate in unproductive activities.  Juvenile crimes are at their peak immediately following school hours, and those students who do go home watch record-breaking amounts of television.

Source: June Kronholz, "Academic Value of Non-Academics," Education Next, Winter 2012.

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