GPA Can Be Lower When Students Get Financial Support From Parents
January 16, 2013

Financial Support From Parents Can Result In Lower GPA For Some College Students

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Parents looking to assist their children with the financial costs of attending college face a paradox - they will likely graduate, but the more money parents provide, the lower their kids´ GPA will tend to be.

According to a new study from University of California, Merced, sociology professor Laura T. Hamilton, the road to lower grades could be paved with parents´ best intentions.

"Students with parental support are best described as staying out of serious academic trouble, but dialing down their academic efforts," Hamilton wrote in the study that appeared in the latest edition of the American Sociological Review.

With college costs skyrocketing just as government-backed financial aid appears to be lagging, future college students may need to turn to their parents more than ever for financial support. Hamilton said she was curious about the overall effect of a parent-financed education.

"Regardless of class background, the toll parental aid takes on GPA is modest," Hamilton noted. "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 began her study by positing two different popular mindsets. The first, dubbed the “more-is-more perspective,” says that parents´ financial support fuels a student´s progress toward academic success. The second, called the “more-is-less perspective,” asserts that parents´ financial support creates a false sense of comfort and is actually a disincentive for academic performance.

To investigate which mindset is more valid, Hamilton analyzed figures from three large federal data sets that allow parental backing and grades to be compared. Her analysis took into account family socio-economic status and the different choices families make on their role in paying for college.

Hamilton found that parental assistance increased the chances of a student graduating within five years. While students with no parental aid during their freshman year had a 56 percent probability of graduating, students who received $12,000 from their parents were predicted to graduate at a rate of 65 percent.

However, parents´ financial backing was found to correlate with a lower average GPA, particularly for families earning more than $90,000. At that income level, parents´ not giving any support predicts a GPA of 3.15, $16,000 in aid predicts a GPA under 3.0, and $40,000 in support predicts a 2.95.

Hamilton posited that social distractions could be more tempting for students with less ℠skin in the game´ financially. She also noted that some parents acknowledge the freedom that college affords young adults, and even encourage them to enjoy their new found freedom.

“Some parents were 100 percent complicit in this,” Hamilton told the Associated Press. “They absolutely wanted their children to go to school and party hard. They told me explicitly it´s not about grades, it´s about having fun, the best years of your life.”

“Now for some families it all works out OK,” she said. “The ℠best years of your life´ idea has trickled down to what everybody thinks college should be. But not everybody can afford for college to be like that. And they pay for that for a long time.”

She added that wealthier families have the benefits of certain professional and social connections, buffering their children from potentially lower grades.