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Parental Support Sends Down College GPA??

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A common goal for many parents is to provide as much financial support for their children’s college expenses as possible. While there is a strong link between the amount of support provided and graduation rates, a recent study by the American Sociological Review seems indicates that there may actually be an inverse relationship between the amount of financial support and their grades!

We often set financial goals without full consideration of the impact that goal will have beyond the money. Providing our children with a college education is a massive commitment and an admirable goal. However, I submit that for most parents, the real goal is not about the money as much as it is providing our children with the opportunity to succeed. And that formula is different for every person.

My friend and colleague, Nathan Gehring, recently wrote about this on his blog, citing from the study:

“…parents not giving their children any aid predicts a GPA of 3.15. At $16,000 in aid, GPA drops under 3.0. At $40,000, it hits 2.95…”

In reality, this research simply confirms what many people have long suspected – students who contribute to their own education costs tend to perform at higher levels than those who don’t. Obviously, this is not a universal phenomenon for every student and every situation. However, at the very least, this evidence creates the need to consider whether a shared financial arrangement is actually in your child’s best interest.

Based on my personal experience and observation, I submit that there may actually be a more important component to this than the money.

Something I would like to see included in this research is the impact of working (whether a literal job, coursework including lab research, etc.), being involved in collegiate sports and/or volunteering while attending school. My personal observations (and personal experience) indicate a stronger connection there than finances.

Clearly, the student paying their own way HAS to work, while it becomes optional for a student who has their education paid for. In my own experience (my tuition and housing was paid for), I did poorly (sub 3.0) my first 2 years in school while I was not working, but made the Dean’s list when putting in 30-40 hours per week at internships and volunteer activities during my last 2.

Many parents would prefer that their child does not have to work while going to school because it will provide them with more time to study. In my own experience (as well as observing others), I actually found that the more free time I had, the less productive I was! There was simply too much time to feel any (real or perceived) pressure to get things done.

My father once told me that if you have to be certain that something gets taken care of by a specific deadline, give it to the busiest person you know. That statement proved to be very true in college and every bit as much in the decade since. People that fill their plate / life with meaningful work or activities just seem to get more things done, be more productive, and generate better results / grades. Your child may be motivated by being at the top of their class, or they may be motivated by having tight windows to get their work completed.

At the end of the day, the decision to pay for college costs is about far more than dollars and cents. Even if you have the means and intent to pay for your child’s education, that may not be the best thing for them. On the other hand, you may simply choose to get more creative with your college planning. A child who believes they are footing some of the bill (whether that is working, or taking out loans) may perform at a higher level in school, while you retain your money and surprise them with a nice graduation gift.


1 Comment

  1. Agreed. I paid 20% of all my college expenses, even though my parents could have afforded to have me contribute 0%. I don’t regret it one bit, and I’m sure that I tried harder and got better grades in school because of it.

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