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How to Get More Out of College

(Photo: John Walker)

We’ve blogged and podcasted about the value (or lack thereof?) of a college education.  A new paper (summarized here) by sociologist Laura Hamilton suggests one way parents can help their kids get more out of college: help them a little less — with tuition, at least.  Here’s the abstract:

Evidence shows that parental financial investments increase college attendance, but we know little about how these investments shape postsecondary achievement. Two theoretical frameworks suggest diametric conclusions. Some studies operate from a more-is-more perspective in which children use calculated parental allocations to make academic progress. In contrast, a more-is-less perspective, rooted in a different model of rational behavior, suggests that parental investments create a disincentive for student achievement. I adjudicate between these frameworks, using data from nationally representative postsecondary datasets to determine what effect financial parental investments have on student GPA and degree completion. The findings suggest seemingly contradictory processes. Parental aid decreases student GPA, but it increases the odds of graduating—net of explanatory variables and accounting for alternative funding. Rather than strategically using resources in accordance with parental goals, or maximizing on their ability to avoid academic work, students are satisficing: they meet the criteria for adequacy on multiple fronts, rather than optimizing their chances for a particular outcome. As a result, students with parental funding often perform well enough to stay in school but dial down their academic efforts. I conclude by highlighting the importance of life stage and institutional context for parental investment.

“There were some affluent families who thought their children were spoiled and didn’t pay the whole cost, and there were some families who had scrimped and saved and borrowed from family members and taken out loans,” Hamilton told The New York Times. “And the affluent families aren’t hurt the most by the lower grades, because they had the connections to call the head of NBC or the N.F.L. and get their child a job. It’s more of a problem for the middle-class parents, who worked hard to pay the college costs, used up their retirement funds and are out of money by graduation time.”

(HT: Marginal Revolution)