Phi Beta Cons

Counterproductive Subsidies

I’ve written here before about the idea of having children pay for their own college, ideally by making a case to investors that their education will produce solid returns. Not only could this help get the government out of higher education, but it would reduce the importance of parental funds, too.

New research shows that students who come up with money themselves, rather than having it handed to them simply for being born, do better:

Parents saving for college costs, take heed: A new national study has found that the more college money parents provide — whether in absolute terms or as a share of total costs — the lower their children’s college grades.

Students from wealthy families are more likely than those from poor families to go to college, and those whose parents pay their way are more likely to graduate. But according to “More Is More or More Is Less? Parent Financial Investments During College,” a study by Laura Hamilton, a sociology professor at the University of California, Merced, greater parental contributions were linked with lower grades across all kinds of four-year institutions.

“It’s a modest effect, not big enough to make the kid flunk out of college,” said Dr. Hamilton, whose study was published in this month’s American Sociological Review. “But it was surprising because everybody has always assumed that the more you give, the better your child does.”

The negative impact on grades was less at elite institutions than at other private, expensive, out-of-state colleges. The higher graduation rate of students whose parents paid their way is not surprising, she said, since many students leave college for financial reasons.

Of course, all social science deserves skepticism, but these findings are interesting, at least.


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