Apparently, Paying For Your Kid’s College Education Means They’ll Get Lower Grades

File under: stuff that really, really surprises me. 

According to a recent study, students whose parents pay for their educations earn slightly lower grades than students whose parents contribute less. The GPA difference between parentally bankrolled students and those without financial support from their parents is small, but is statistically significant.

Here’s a particularly interesting quote from the article I read about this study:

“…grants, scholarships, work-study, student employment and veterans benefits don’t have similar negative effects on GPA, though loans do, along with direct parental aid. She suggests that’s because loans and unconditional parental grants have no immediate strings attached, whereas scholarships and grants often carry GPA requirements. There may also be a psychological effect. With grants, ‘students feel like they’ve earned them in some way’ and want to justify them.”

So basically, when students feel like the money will just keep coming (whether from parents or from loans) they don’t feel as motivated to keep their grades up.

I guess this shouldn’t be so surprising – I’ve actually heard this argument made by people in both the blogosphere and in real life. It just feels so shocking to me because it runs very contrary to my personal experience: I graduated summa cum laude from a major university and my parents paid for the whole thing.*

I’m a perfectionist by nature and probably would have worked as hard as possible at my grades no matter who was paying, but I think I felt especially pressured to do my best because my parents were paying. They never told me that my GPA had to be at a certain level or that I wasn’t allowed to get into trouble. I just knew that it would be the wrong to spend all my time drinking and ditching my classes. My parents worked very hard to be able to afford my college education (and my siblings’ educations, too) and it would have felt incredibly disrespectful to slack off. I can’t imagine a more stinging slap in the face to them than bringing home sub-par grades, which is why it surprises me that so many students seem to think it’s ok to do just that.

So I’m not sure that reading about the outcome of this study impacts my thinking about whether or not I think it’s a good idea to pay for my (future, hypothetical) child’s college education. I’ve said this before, but I think that if people raise their kids to be responsible individuals and respectful of their parents, they probably won’t blow off their studies.

But what about you? Do you think it’s a good idea to pay for your child’s whole college education? Does the news of this study impact your thoughts on the topic? Do tell!

P.S. – For further reading about this topic, check out Johnny and Joanna’s thoughts on paying for their baby girl’s college education.


*My students loans come from my graduate degree, which I was responsible for financing on my own. I chose loans :(



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Apparently, Paying For Your Kid’s College Education Means They’ll Get Lower Grades — 18 Comments

  1. I’m going to write you an email about this, because this NYT article made the rounds with my ed policy friends & I think there are some deeply nerdy comments I have about the article that aren’t PF relevant, but probably interesting to you nonetheless.

  2. So now I can blame my B+ average on the fact that my parents paid for most of my education and I took out loans for the rest! Wonderful!

    I would think that the difference between the two populations is people who don’t belong in college in the first place. If they have to pay their own way through working or getting scholarships, they choose not to go, whereas they would if they had easy access to the funds through parents or loans.

  3. Absolutely not shocked at all. Part of the deal at our school was that virtually all scholarships came with the caveat that the student had to have some “skin in the game”. Scholarships were very generous and allowed us to do things like study abroad and take unpaid summer internships that scholarships don’t typically cover, but at least part of the expenses had to be covered by the student – either through a job or through loans in THEIR name.

  4. I’m shocked and then also not shocked by this. Sometimes I feel that if I didn’t have to work full-time all throughout undergrad and grad school, that I could have done better. However, I’m not going to cry about my 3.85 GPA. It seems that my friends who have had school paid for all take a long time to graduate (6 plus years) and don’t do the greatest. Whereas me and a couple of my friends who have had to pay for everything (tuition, rent, food, etc.) all got good grade and graduated in 4 years or less.

  5. My parents paid for my undergrad and I took out loans for law school. I worked hard regardless of the source of financing because like you, that’s just my nature. I think there are other factors leading to the study outcome. I imagine there are some kids who grew up knowing they’ll be able to go to college no matter what so they don’t try as hard and perhaps their study habits aren’t as good as someone who knew they had to get merit-based scholarships. There are probably also some kids with entitled attitudes and don’t feel it’s worth their trouble to have to study hard. I’m extremely grateful for what my parents offered me, and I plan on doing the same for my future children. My plan is to pay for the college tuition and ask that they save up for their living expenses.

  6. People whose parents pay for their college… -_-

    The way I make myself feel better is to know that no matter what, whether the parents require it be paid back or not (more often than not, it’s NOT) the person will always owe the parents in a way, a very large sum. I can tell myself that at least I don’t owe someone like that. Yeah, it’s a long shot, but I have to tell myself whatever I can to feel better.

  7. Owing the government is not the same as owing your own family, btw. Student loan is impersonal, not really to anyone debt. It’s also debt I didn’t really choose to acquire, whereas someone who chose to have their parents pay knew they would be taking something from their parents. I didn’t know I was going into debt, I thought I was getting help for school.

    • But just as your perspective was “I’m getting help with school” so was mine. It didn’t cross my mind that my parents paying for school was anything besides the kind of help that parents “normally” provide. Keep environment in mind: everyone I knew had parents who paid for their college tuition, so to me, it was just something parents did. I didn’t view it as a debt (and still don’t) and my parents would never want me to. However, I’m now much more able to appreciate how incredibly luck I was to have parents willing and financially able to help.

      • Most people don’t view it as debt, but a gift. I don’t really care that “everyone you knew” had parents paying for school. In the real world, it’s not that common.

        You taking money from your parents to pay for your college education (you could have chosen not to take their money) is nothing like me being tricked into tens of thousands in loans. It’s not just something parents do. Not only did my mom not pay for my school, she actually STOLE some of my loan money.

        I’m sure you don’t view it as a debt, but in a way it is. You would not have been able to go to school without their help. It’s not a monetary debt, and it’s not a debt you can ever pay back. You will always owe them in some way, above and beyond what parents give to their kids until age 18.

        I have a big huge mess to pay off and you don’t. I guess you should feel grateful.

        Sorry if this sounds rude, I’m just sick of people not getting it. It also bugs me that you asked me what I meant when I said I was tricked into loans when you really have no idea what it’s like.

        • You’ve just never explained what the “trick” was. Were documents falsified? I don’t know what the “trick” was.

          I’m not going to address the rest of this comment because I’m sick of getting flack from you about the life I lead.

          • You also have NO idea what it’s like to be stuck with tens of thousands in student loans.

            You can ask what the trick was, but I don’t feel you really have any right to ask because you have NEVER dealt with student loans anywhere near this amount–because your parents paid for your school.

            The documents weren’t falsified, no. But nobody explained anything to me, or explained how deep in debt I would be when I finished school–something you don’t and never will understand. I was just thrown to the sharks, and didn’t realize until I graduated what a disaster I was in.

            You don’t get it. In your late teens and early twenties nobody tells you these things, and you’re in a mess, like I am now. Unless of course, your parents pay for school.

            Reply or don’t reply. Maybe you need to learn that what comes out of people’s mouths and minds isn’t always rainbows and sunshine. Believe me, if you want me to say nice things, I want these loans gone. I’ll talk nicely when I wake up, go to my account, and my loan balance says $0.

            You just don’t get it.

  8. Perhaps there is another approach to consider if parents are worried that their kid might blow off their study efforts and/or get lower grades if they get educated on their parents’ tab. Proceed as follows: Instead of parents paying the bills “while” their kid attends school, let the kid pay whatever s/he can afford while taking on student debt. Later on, after graduation, might be the better time for parents to then help in paying off some / most / or all of that remaining debt. That way the kid stays motivated, works hard and takes on responsibility while going to school. After graduation, helping to reduce the years of being in debt may then help kids to easier get their careers in gear. Only don’t tell your kid that this is your long term plan until after graduation.

  9. Interesting article. I would like to know how many of these parents also paid for everything for their child while they were still in high school. I think you nailed it when you said, “…if people raise their kids to be responsible individuals and respectful of their parents, they probably won’t blow off their studies.”

    • I agree with both of you. My parents didn’t pay for my school, I paid for all of it and took out loans for what I couldn’t afford to pay in cash. If my parents had paid I was have felt like a complete and utter failure if I did poorly and disappointed them/wasted their hard earned money.

  10. I definitely see this with my students. Those that know that they HAVE to get scholarships if they want to go to college (because their parents could never afford it) usually work really hard to keep their grades up because they know their future depends on it. This obviously isn’t true for all students (it wasn’t for me and regret it to this day) but I think it can definitely be a motivator.

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