Much discussion about higher education assumes that the children of wealthy parents have all the advantages, and they certainly have many. But a new study reveals an area where they may be at a disadvantage. The study found that the more money (in total and as a share of total college costs) that parents provide for higher education, the lower the grades their children earn.
The findings — particularly grouped with other work by the researcher who made them — suggest that the students least likely to excel are those who receive essentially blank checks for college expenses.
The study — "More Is More or More Is Less?" — is by Laura Hamilton, an assistant professor in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts at the University of California at Merced, and was just published by the American Sociological Review (abstract available here), the flagship journal of the American Sociological Association.
Hamilton used data from three longitudinal federal databases — the Baccalaureate and Beyond Study, the Beginning Postsecondary Students Study, and the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study. And she compared parental contributions and grades. Significantly, she also controlled for factors such as parental socioeconomic status. She argues in the paper that high wealth levels are associated with higher parental financial contributions, but also with other factors that contribute to academic performance (such as better high school educations, high aspirations for higher education, and so forth). Without controlling for socioeconomic status, those other factors may mask differences in patterns based solely on parental financial contributions.
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INSIDE HIGHER EDUCATION