Cultural Learning Alliance

There is an increasing realisation that the arts are essential to people’s wellbeing and that they provide a lifeline in difficult times

Julian Lloyd-Webber
Musician and Chairman of In Harmony

Evidence

Finding 3: Getting a degree

Students from low income families who take part in arts activities at school are three times more likely to get a degree

Using the NELS:88 cohort study in the US Catterall has found that at age 26 students from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds with high levels of arts involvement were nearly three times as likely to have earned BA degrees (about 18 percent versus 6 percent), more than twice as likely to have earned associate degrees, and nearly three times as likely to have earned masters or higher degrees(1). Students from high SES backgrounds with high levels of arts involvement are also more likely than those with low levels of arts involvement to have earned HE qualifications, although the differences are less significant (see table below).

Catterall also found that the education advantages to the students with high levels of arts involvement appeared to increase over time and arts-engaged low-income students tend to perform more like average higher-income students(2). This suggests a role for the arts in schools as a way of combating inequality. Research from schools in Chicago, North Carolina and Oklahoma shows arts integration as an efficient, successful school improvement tool raising attainment, improving the attendance and behaviour of students and increasing teacher morale(3).

These findings are backed up by UK studies. Using the British Cohort Study of 1970 a report by Karen Robson for the Institute for Social and Economic Research found that even accounting for the effects of economic capital of the family of origin, art and music-related leisure, having attending a night course, reading for pleasure, visiting a library and leisure writing at age 16 all increased the odds of having a university degree at 29(4).

Indicators of higher education and employment-related attainment at age 26, by SES (socio-economic status) and arts involvement groups. Percentages by group(5).

 

All students

Hi SES Students

Low SES Students

Hi Art

Low Art

Hi Art

Low Art

Ever attended college after high school

79.1%

98.6%

92.%

70.7%

48.1%

Ever attended 4 yr post-sec institution

53.8%

93.3%

76%

38.7%

16.8%

Mostly As and Bs as undergrad

31%

36.8%

55%

14.7%

8.5%

Degree/certificate earned-2000

 

 

 

 

 

MA

3.8%

12.1%

10.9%

0.8%

0.3%

BA

29.6%

17.7%

6.3%

17.7%

6.3%

Assoc

36.9%

26.8%

10.7%

24%

10.3%

 

(1) James Catterall, Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art (Los Angeles: I-Group Books, 2009), 60.

(2) President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools (Washington, DC: 2011), 18.

(3) President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, Reinvesting in Arts Education, 19-21.

(4) Karen Robson, “Teenage Time Use as Investment in Cultural Capital.” Working Papers of the Institute for Social and Economic Research, paper 2003-12 (Colchester: University of Essex, 2003), 22.

(5) Catterall, Doing Well, 58. 

Gold Arts Award students at Bodmin College, Cornwall. Photo by Kirstin Prisk
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