When Parents Pay/Don’t Pay for Their Kids’ College Education

And here she found — across all types of four-year institutions — the greater parental contributions were, the lower the student grades were.

This finding backs the idea that parental financial support can act as a “moral hazard” in that students make decisions about how seriously to take their studies without having personally made the investment of cash in their educations.

Over at Inside Higher Ed, Scott Jaschik reports about a study showing that college students who have their parents generously pay for their educations get lower grades than those who pay for their own educations. Caveat: Students who have to pay for their own educations have lower graduation rates (because those who can’t afford to pay for college are forced to drop out). So.

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15 Comments / Post A Comment

WaityKatie (#1,696)

Could it also be because rich people are dumber than poor people??? ….Juuuuuusttttt Kiiiiiddingggg….

Blondsak (#2,299)

Interesting (and not entirely unsurprising, at least in my experience) findings. My completely-unsupported-by-science theory is that these kids don’t have lower grades because their parents paid for college, but because their parents raised them in an environment where academic success wasn’t prioritized because (due to their parent’s money) they were able to focus on extra-curriculars and socializing, and also never had to worry about getting a college academic scholarship. Paying for college is just a possible symptom of that problem (not that it’s a problem for all upper middle class and beyond kids, but that only children of upper middle class and beyond parents can afford to have that specific problem).

Just my rambly two cents.

Forwarding this to my mom, who paid for my younger sister to drop out 12 credits shy of a degree, but didn’t pay for my schooling, since I didn’t ‘ask permission’ to transfer to a university that is ranked better for my chosen field.

At non-need blind institutions, students who can pay full tuition are admitted with lower GPAs/SATs and students who need financial aid need higher GPAs/SATs to be admitted. That seems like a pretty easy answer to why poor kids are getting better grades than rich kids.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@TheclaAndTheSeals Good thought! Also, kids with higher grades across the board can shop more carefully and consider financial aid packages. Kids who pay list price probably didn’t get into everyplace they wanted.

megadith (#273)

Interesting. I had to pay my own way and work all through high school, college, and grad school and while I did fine (about 3.5 GPA, 3.9 in grad school because they hand out As) I think I could have been a straight-A student if I hadn’t had to spend every evening and weekend working. What difference would a 4.0 have made in my life now? Zero. So.

Couldn’t this also be because those who are not depending on their parents need to focus on their GPA much more in order to keep being competitive enough for scholarships? I was meticulous with my GPA, obsessing about it, crying when I first got an A-, because I was so afraid to not being able to win scholarships. I wouldn’t wish that stress on anyone.

probs (#296)

Interesting! This isn’t consistent with my anecdotal experience, but I’ll trust their data over my anecdotes when it comes to drawing large conclusions.

hopelessshade (#580)

Well, this explains my brother, but I was personally unable to conceive of not getting high grades.

(Conversely, for whatever reason, he is employable and I am not…)

TARDIStime (#1,633)

@hopelessshade That whatever reason? You’re probably “overqualified”.
:(

readyornot (#816)

Erm, hate to be the social science wet blanket, but that study did not control for merit-based scholarships. It just took into account parental contributions. So there have got to be some kids who have zero parental contribution, but aren’t paying anything either because they have a scholarship from their smarts.

AND ALSO: the author controls for parental socioeconomic status. I don’t want to go even wonkier, but essentially what that means is she is looking at the grades of students with different levels of parental contribution but the same socioeconomic status. I think, a lot of times, those things would move in the same direction, and when they don’t, they’re weird, and can bias your estimates.

EM (#1,012)

@readyornot I don’t think either of those are methodological flaws. She has to control for SES, otherwise the cohorts are “rich parents vs poor parents” as opposed to contributing parents vs non-contributing parents. Ditto merit-based scholarships- the question isn’t “does money make a difference” but “does the source of money being your parents’ chequebook make a difference”. Plus, I imagine the latter is a way smaller sample- very few people get a full academic ride from a merit scholarship compared to the number of people who get parental support. I didn’t download the article yet though because I don’t have access to academic journals from my home computer, but if you did I’d be interested to know if she talks about study limitations!

P.J. Morse (#665)

It may be that the students whose education isn’t paid for understand what is at stake. If they can’t graduate, they may miss out on some good opportunities. As for the rich who aren’t smart enough for a scholarship, they can take risks. They have a safety net.

Then again, my cousin who just started attending a brand-name school and who was going to pay with a mix of financial aid and her parents’ money just decided to drop out after a semester. She wanted to live closer to her boyfriend. So you may as well throw basic teenage romance into the list of factors if someone will succeed or fail.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

My parents paid for most of college and that encouraged me to do as well as I could, because I didn’t want to waste their money/disappoint them. I remember having to show them my grades, just like in grade school, and I thought that’s just how it was, because they were paying for those grades!

I’m surprised nobody’s yet mentioned that, once you’ve graduated, your marks are irrelevant. Or, put another way: What do they call the person who graduated last in her class in Med School? “Doctor”.

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