KU News Service

Study shows high school athletes perform better in school, persist to graduation more than non-athletes

Fri, 01/24/2014

LAWRENCE — The stereotype of the dumb jock has been around almost as long as sport itself. On the opposite sideline there are coaches, teachers and athletes who would argue that high school sports are as beneficial to students in the classroom as they are on the field of play. A new study from the University of Kansas that analyzed academic performance of athletes and nonathletes across Kansas shows that participation in interscholastic athletics is often associated with better educational outcomes.

Angela Lumpkin, professor of health, sport and exercise sciences, and Rebecca Achen, doctoral candidate and graduate teaching assistant at KU, show that athletes had higher percentages of days of school attended, graduation rates, and Kansas assessment scores and lower dropout rates than nonathletes. They analyzed data for students in grades nine through 12 for the 2011-12 school year in schools throughout the state.

Kansas has a policy that to be eligible to compete in sports, students must pass at least five credit hours per semester. Lumpkin cites the policy as a reason many students persist in their academic work.

“In general, an athlete is not smarter than a nonathlete,” Lumpkin said. “But I would argue, and I think our evidence suggests, that just having such a policy shows the student they need to take their studies seriously if they want to compete.”

Lumpkin, a former college basketball coach, and Achen, a former high school athlete and junior high coach, analyzed data from the Kansas State High School Activities Association, National Federation of State High School and Kansas State Department of Education.

The results have a number of implications regarding high school athletics, educational funding and policy. School districts regularly face tight budgets that force decisions on where funding should be cut. Evidence that participating in sports can help student performance may be cited as a factor in continuing to fund them, Lumpkin said, and convince policy makers that money spent on athletics is justified. The results could also be used as an argument for improving students’ futures.

Students who complete high school have much higher economic potential than those who drop out. Conversely, those who drop out are more likely to live in poverty, face substance abuse and numerous other social problems, Lumpkin said.

Reiterating that athletic competition does not make a student smarter, the authors argue that the lessons learned in athletics, combined with the knowledge that they must do well in school to participate, improves students’ persistence and chances for success.

“What we are saying is participation is important. Whether it’s learning time management or handling expectations from someone in their life like coaches, teammates or family members, athletes are learning discipline,” Lumpkin said.

The study compared academic performance of athletes and non-athletes between boys and girls and between white and minority students. In each measure athletes had higher academic performance than nonathletes.

“For the most part there were significant differences among the athlete and nonathlete populations,” Achen said. “It showed to be true among all groups analyzed that being an athlete helped them persist.”

The study did not consider how culture might affect whether a student took part in athletics and also did not break down which sports the students took part in. The majority of Kansas schools are small enough that there is not “specialization,” and students play multiple sports. The results cannot be assumed to be the same in all states as policies regarding athletics and demographics vary greatly. It is reasonable to presume, however, that interscholastic athletics have academic benefits in other states, the authors said, and they hope that others will conduct similar studies across the nation.

“Involvement in interscholastic sports has a positive impact on high school students as suggested by previous research and corroborated by this study. As such, participation should be encouraged, especially for high-risk populations, and specifically for minority students,” Lumpkin and Achen wrote. “The potential for sport participation to improve graduation rates, keep students in school longer and increase daily attendance should lead administrators to adamantly support interscholastic sport.”

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Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner. See it here:
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Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening.

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Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.

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