School & District Management

Extra Benefits Tied to Extracurriculars

By Michelle Galley — October 18, 2000 2 min read

Students who take part in extracurricular activities such as band, school plays, academic clubs, and sports generally do better in high school, and even beyond, than those who don’t, according to an ongoing long-term study of more than 1,000 former Michigan 6th graders.

Participation in extracurricular activities such as school plays, as these students at Walter Johnson High School in Montgomery County, Md., were doing last week, is linked to better grades and lower truancy rates in an ongoing study.
—Allison Shelley.

The activities are linked to better grades, lower rates of truancy, stronger feelings of attachment to a school, and higher rates of college attainment, according to the Michigan Study of Adolescent Life Transitions.

The study began in 1983 with a group of 1,800 6th graders from 10 school districts in southeastern Michigan. A majority of the students are white, and they come from working- and middle-class families.

For administrators, the study’s lesson is clear, said researcher Bonnie Barber, an associate professor of family studies and human development at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

“When funding gets tight, don’t cut activities. Don’t cut band or orchestra,” said Ms. Barber, who is leading the study along with Jacquelynne S. Eccles, a professor of psychology and education at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Well-Rounded Students

The study relates numerous extracurricular activities to positive, and sometimes negative, behaviors.

For example, participation in “prosocial activities,” such as attending church, volunteering, and taking part in community service, was accompanied by better academic performance and higher rates of college enrollment for those students, compared with their peers who did not participate.

Likewise, membership on team sports correlated with such positive outcomes as better grade point averages and college attendance. But student athletes in the study also were more likely to drink alcohol than students who chose other types of extracurricular activities.

Ms. Barber said the results were controlled for students’ academic ability, as gauged by their scores on an aptitude test, and their mothers’ education level.

The researchers have collected eight waves of data on the student participants through self-administered surveys and school records, including grades, absences, and disciplinary actions. Some 1,400 of the original students participated in the most recent wave of data, collected in 1996, when most of the participants were 24 years old.

In an unpublished paper on those data, the researchers report that students who had participated in extracurricular activities of any kind were more likely to have graduated from college than those who had not.

In addition, sports participation in 10th grade was positively related to being on a career path following graduation. The researchers found no other correlations between careers and the other activities studied.

The researchers are collecting a ninth wave of data this year.

Funding for the study has come from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the W.T. Grant Foundation.

Interesting Ideas? Send suggestions for possible Research section stories to Debra Viadero at Education Week, 6935 Arlington Road, Suite 100, Bethesda, MD, 20814; e-mail: Coverage of research is underwritten in part by a grant from the Spencer Foundation.


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