Access to High School Arts Education: Why Student Participation Matters as Much as Course Availability


  • M. Kathleen Thomas Mississippi State University
  • Priyanka Singh The University of Texas at Dallas
  • Kristin Klopfenstein University of Northern Colorado
  • Thomas C. Henry U.S. Food and Drug Administration



Art education, music education, theatre arts, dance education, disproportionate representation, secondary school curriculum, course selection (students), Texas, 2010, factor analysis


There is renewed interest in the role of arts education in the curriculum of U.S. public schools not only because of the intrinsic value of the arts and its believed impact on achievement, but because cultivating creativity is thought to promote innovation and fuel economic growth. Still, we know little about basic access to arts education. Using individual-level administrative data from The University of Texas at Dallas Education Research Center (UTD-ERC), we develop several distinct indices of access to identify high schools rich in the arts. We find that high schools offering an extensive number of courses in the arts do not necessarily enjoy high rates of student participation. Policymakers who examine access based only on course counts in the arts will identify predominately large, non-rural high schools as having arts-rich environments. Evaluating arts programs along a single dimension, as is common in federal reports and other studies, fails to provide an accurate representation of access to arts education. Any examination of access to arts education should jointly consider course availability and student engagement in the arts. Policymakers can follow our approach and develop similar indices to assess the current state of arts education in their states.


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Author Biographies

M. Kathleen Thomas, Mississippi State University

M. Kathleen Thomas is an associate professor of economics in the Department of Finance and Economics at Mississippi State University. She is also a research affiliate with the Texas Schools Project at The University of Texas at Dallas. Dr. Thomas is currently using administrative education data to examine how participation in arts education influences achievement.

Priyanka Singh, The University of Texas at Dallas

Priyanka Singh is a research scientist at the Education Research Center at The University of Texas at Dallas. Her research interests focus on the economics of education, labor economics, and applied microeconometrics. Dr. Singh received her doctorate degree in economics from The University of Texas at Dallas.

Kristin Klopfenstein, University of Northern Colorado

Kristin Klopfenstein is the founding executive director of the Education Innovation Institute at the University of Northern Colorado where she works to connect researchers, policymakers, and educators to improve education. Prior to joining EII, Dr. Klopfenstein was the interim director of Texas Schools Project at The University of Texas at Dallas and associate professor of economics at Texas Christian University.

Thomas C. Henry, U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Thomas Henry is an economist in the Office of the Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Prior to joining FDA, he was an instructor of economics and a doctoral student at Mississippi State University. His dissertation examined the impact of participation in the performing arts in high school on education, labor market, and occupational choice outcomes using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.




How to Cite

Thomas, M. K., Singh, P., Klopfenstein, K., & Henry, T. C. (2013). Access to High School Arts Education: Why Student Participation Matters as Much as Course Availability. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 21, 83.