High aid, low grades
New research shows that the more parents help finance college tuition, the lower students’ grades will become.
The study — “More Is More or More Is Less? Parental Financial Investments during College” — comes from Laura T. Hamilton, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Merced.
Hamilton found that parents who contributed more helped keep their children in school until graduation. However, students with this privilege were much more likely to slack off during their time in college.
Hamilton compiled data from federal databases to compare parental contributions with student GPAs within four-year institutions.
“Students whose parents make $90,000 annually and receive no aid have an average GPA of around 3.15, whereas students whose parents make $5,000 start below 3.05. As aid increases, the curves begin to converge. By $16,000 in aid, all students are pulled below the 3.00 mark — a critical threshold for many graduate programs and employers,” Hamilton stated in the study.
In general, students in higher economic brackets performed better overall, but as parental contributions increased, grades declined.
Hamilton discovered that when parents failed to set clear expectations for their child’s success, students were prone to slack off and dial down their academic effort.
As explained in her study, “The curve for the most privileged students is the steepest, but everyone experiences a significant reduction in GPA — particularly in the first $8,000 of aid. Regardless of class background, the toll parental aid takes on GPA is modest. Yet, any reduction in student GPA due to parental aid — which is typically offered with the best of intentions — is both surprising and important.”
Hamilton also found that students spend an average of 28 hours a week on classes and homework combined. Conversely, they spend up to 41 hours a week on recreational and social activities.
Hamilton encouraged parents to focus on what they’re paying for to make a smarter investment for their children.
Summer Loffredo, a senior at Youngstown State University, agreed that students are ready and able to take their college opportunity for granted.
“Incoming students might not realize how important it is to get good grades. It took me about a year to really kick myself in gear to start getting good grades,” she said.
Loffredo said she believes that encouragement from her parents has played a key role in her academic success.
“You definitely have to have the motivation from your parents, not just their checkbook,” Loffredo said.
Nicholas Baron, a junior, said he doesn’t believe the research is relevant because of his experience at YSU.
“My parents are paying my first four years of tuition. I haven’t thought twice about it. I’m here to get the best grades I can while I’m enrolled,” Baron said.
Baron maintains a 3.79 GPA and said he thinks a student’s grades are a reflection of character, rather than a dollar amount.
“I think students will come into college and work as hard as they want to. It really has nothing to do with the parents at that point,” Baron said.
Sharon Stringer, director of the YSU Office of Assessment, said she believes Hamilton’s research was probable and that students will benefit by making contributions to their tuition bill.
“I also emphasize, as does the author, that there are other factors that could really influence success in college. So, one rule does not really apply to all,” Stringer said.
Stringer noted that many factors contribute to student success, including passion, drive, resources, support networks and peer encouragement.
“These factors influence students in different way,” Stringer said. “Some studies found students who had to work twice as hard or harder than others, in the long term, may exceed others who had more advantageous upbringings, because they knew that they could not take success for granted.”