Saturday, January 19, 2013

Does Financial Aid From Parents Affect Student Success?

 According to a study in the American Sociological Review, there is a correlation between the extent that parents provide college students with financial aid and how well students perform academically. More financial aid correlates with higher graduation rates, but it also correlates with lower grades.  The author suggests that students “satisfice;” that is, they do well enough to satisfy their parents, but don’t perform at the maximum level.

One wonders if there is a similar correlation for law students, particularly law students who are not at the top of the class. Do they perform well enough to satisfy parents and make themselves eligible for jobs, but fail to perform as well as  they could? Here is the abstract:

Evidence shows that parental financial investments increase college attendance, but weknow 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. 


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