May 5 (UPI) -- Colorado has seen an uptick in high school graduation rates among female students since the implementation of a statewide program to expand access to birth control among teens and young adults, a study published Wednesday by Science Advances found.
Since the start of the Colorado Family Planning Initiative in late 2009, high school graduation rates statewide increased by nearly 2% among all women and by up to 5% among Hispanic women, the data showed.
The rise in graduation rates has corresponded with a 14% decline in the percentage of female students not finishing high school compared to the period before the start of the initiative, the researchers said.
"We found that when [the] state gave people access to whatever contraceptive tools people wanted, more young women were able to complete their high school educations," study co-author Amanda Jean Stevenson told UPI.
"Family planning programs aren't just good because they save money -- they are also good because they give people what they need to have the lives they want," said Stevenson, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Colorado-Boulder.
Enacted in 2009, the Colorado Family Planning Initiative expanded contraceptive access by providing funding that made every Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive method available to every client in every state-run family planning clinic at low or no cost, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
In addition, the program offered training in using specialized long-acting, reversible contraceptive methods, such intrauterine devices, the agency said.
During the first five years of the program, use of these birth control options statewide increased by nearly 17%, and teen birth rates fell by up to 18%, based on earlier research findings.
Abortion rates among teens and young adults ages 15 to 29 also decreased during this time period, research shows.
For this study, Stevenson and her colleagues compared graduation rates in Colorado for the 11 years before the inaction of the family planning program to those in the eight years since.
The percentage of women age 20 to 22 in the state with a high school diploma or greater increased to nearly 90% by 2017, up from just over 88% before the start of the program, the data showed.
The findings suggest that improving access to contraception among young women allows them to achieve their education goals and lead more "productive" lives, according to Stevenson.
"I would love for policymakers to understand that improving access to contraception gives people the tools they need to have the lives they want," Stevenson said.
"And most people want lives in which they are productive, engaged members of society," she said.