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Randall Jeppesen ReportingA BYU study tracked thousands of girls from high school through college, comparing girls who played high school sports to those who didn't play.
Sociology professor Mikaela Dufur says the girls who played high school sports had a 41 percent higher college graduation rate, and most of them did not play college sports.
The study suggests playing high school sports gives girls more of a focus and the drive they need to stick it out through tough times, to graduate.
Beckett Broh, a sociologist at Wittenberg University in Ohio and who is not affiliated with the BYU research, concluded in a 2002 study that athletics help students' academic performance during high school more than any other extracurricular activity. Broh said school administrators facing tight budgets should take the new BYU study into consideration before putting an athletic program on the chopping block for the sake of cutting costs.
"This is pretty powerful evidence that interscholastic sports are worthy of our education dollars," said Broh. "This is one of the first few studies that have done a really careful look at long-term benefits of sports."
Troutman and Dufur analyzed a sample of 5,000 female students from the high school class of 1992 who were randomly selected to participate in the National Education Longitudinal Study. Those students, both athletes and non-athletes, completed surveys in 8th grade, 10th grade and 12th grade. Six years after finishing high school, the participants completed a final survey that included questions about post-high-school education.
The statistical analysis accounted for other potential factors that could also influence educational attainment, including parents' education, family income, type of school, student expectations, family size, race, high school test scores, college grades and whether the student continued her athletic career at college. Controlling for those effects, the researchers still found that women with high school sports experience had better success earning a four-year college degree.
(BYU Press Release Contributed to this Report)