Religion improves high school graduation, college enrollment rates: study

Nov. 2, 2012, 2:27 p.m.

Researchers found that religious teens are 40 percent more likely to graduate high school than their nonreligious counterparts, and 70 percent more likely to enroll in college. (Mathieu Jarry/Flickr Creative Commons)

It may be that religion is keeping a lot of kids in school these days.

It's a bit more complicated than that, but that's the gist of a new study appearing in the seemingly paradoxically-named Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Researchers found that teens who are religiously-affiliated are 40 percent more likely to graduate high school than their nonreligious counterparts, and 70 percent more likely to enroll in college.

The reason has less to do with religious doctrine than with the relationships religious youth form with peers and mentors who share in their belief systems. In a religious context, mentoring figures were found to play an especially pronounced role in counseling and encouraging teens, and were just as effective as mentors from a secular context.

The study looked at more than 8,300 teens and honed in on two patterns:

– Catholics, mainline Protestants and black Protestant teens were twice as likely as their nonreligious youth to graduate from high school and 80 percent more likely to go to college.

– Jewish and Mormon teens had the highest odds of graduating from high school and enrolling in college, period.

The latest religion statistics for Los Angeles County are from 2000, and are courtesy of the Glenmary Research Center. They indicate an overwhelming Catholic population, and don't include information for Baha'i, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist adherents:

– Roman Catholic: 40 percent of L.A. County's total population
– Jewish: 5.9 percent
– Southern Baptist Convention: 1.2 percent
– Mormon: 1 percent
– Muslim: 1 percent
– American Baptist: 0.8 percent
– Independent Charismatic: 0.8 percent
– Assembly of God: 0.7 percent
– United Methodist: 0.6 percent
– International Church of the Foursquare Gospel: 0.6 percent

A walk around South L.A. – in the communities that surround Central Avenue, in particular – make it clear there's no shortage of churches in the area, whether they're of the traditional or storefront variety. But a glance at the southside's graduation rates indicates there are a lot of youth who could use some of that religious (or secular) mentorship researchers were talking about: The Los Angeles Times says the majority of South L.A. residents who are 25 or older don't have their high school diploma.

Put another way: That's more than 203,000 people without a complete high school education.

About 26 percent of the folks who live there have at least some college education, says the Times.

Religion, said lead study author Lance Erickson in a statement, gives youth "a unique chance to form relationships with peers and mentors outside of their classroom or their neighborhood at home."

"Mentors especially care for, counsel with and encourage youth throughout their growing years in a way that teachers and parents might not be able to," he added.

Photo by Mathieu Jarry via Flickr Creative Commons.

Stories nearby