Could arts education improve high school completion rates?

High school completion is one of the strongest indicators of future success for youth. However, in Alberta, 1 in 5 students will not graduate high school - many of these students come from low-income families. Research suggests one strategy to increase the number of successful graduates could be to increase arts education programming available to low-income families.  

"The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth Report" provides statistical evidence that students from low-income families who have a history of high involvement in arts education programs have shown more positive outcomes and positive academic success than the students who did not participate in these programs. They earned better grades and were more likely to enroll in college, volunteer in their community and vote in elections.

  • High school students who earned few or no arts credits were five times more likely not to have graduated than students who earned many arts credits.

  • Students who had intensive arts experiences in high school were three times more likely than students who lacked those experiences to earn a bachelor’s degree.

United Way provides funding for E4C's ArtStart program, a safe and supportive arts environment for children ages 5 - 16 who come from low-income families. During the 2010-2011 school year, the program provided arts programming to 95 children. This program not only enables children to be actively involved in positive activities after school, but it also helps build skills such as increased literacy, critical thinking and concentration, improves confidence, and promotes teamwork.

At ArtStart, children from low-income families are given the chance to express themselves creatively through dance, music, drama, painting, photography and more. And the benefits last a lifetime. For example, drama teaches emotional intelligence, memorization and processing skills, which can help students later on in school.

Although many factors contribute to students success in school, the findings of the report point to interesting statistical correlations between arts involvement and academic success of children. Could improved arts education increase high school completion rates? I think it could.

David Odumade, Manager, New Media, United Way of the Alberta Capital Region is an avid guitarist and lover of all things musical. Except country. *shudders*

ArtStart classes are all run by dedicated volunteer artists who want to make a lasting difference in a child's life. If you are an artist and would like to volunteer some of your time you can contact for more information.