Shouldering the cost of education

In Opinion

Another semester of college begins, and with it comes the inevitable mountain of fees. From classes to books to parking permits and everything in between, returning students know the extent to which a higher education weighs on the wallet and freshmen are just discovering that weight.

Regardless of the monetary pressure, however, we must all deal with it in one way or another. The seemingly luckiest among us have parents willing to shoulder that burden for us.

At least this would be the typical rationale. According to a new study by Lauren Hamilton, a sociology professor from UC Merced, students who receive any kind of financial support from parents tend to do worse in their classes than those who are personally invested in their studies.

Using five nationally representative data-sets, Hamilton’s study revealed that the effects were never so great that students found themselves flunking out, but sub-par grades in comparison to what the supportive parents expected were regularly recorded.

While Hamilton’s study seems to fly in the face of traditional parental thought processes—indeed it contradicts the sense that if a student has fewer extra-curriculars to worry about, they focus more on school—there are contradictions in her own study.

For example; although GPA was higher for students who pay their own way, their graduation rate was actually lower. Furthermore, the general effects of the lower GPA was less so at elite institutions.

This would appear to only further complicate and contradict matters, but only if we completely ignore the human element in all this. Regardless of how one wants to think of it, this is still a matter in which young adults are at the core; young adults with different motivations and desires.

Now, when thought of like this, it most certainly seems to make sense. After all, if one has a personal stake in something, then they are much more likely to feel, well, invested in that pursuit. It might be a little odd to think of education in this way, but education is ostensibly an investment in one’s own future.

Even the fact that students who self-fund have higher GPAs, yet a smaller chance for graduation has a very easy to understand rationale behind it if we do not lump all the students that classify as self-funders under a single umbrella.

Imagine it like this: Two students are entering college with no monetary support from their parents. Both are self-motivated, but whereas one already has a fairly well-paying job and actually still receives free housing from their parents, the other has just entered into a low-level position and is also attempting to provide herself with housing. Try as they might, that second individual is always going to have a smaller chance of staying in school based solely on their financial situation.

On the flip side, someone who is having their education “taken care of” for them will likely fall into a couple of categories and thought-processes themselves. Since they have no actual “real” stake in it themselves, their motivation instead falls on how beholden they are to their parents and how important education is to their perceived future.

If anything, that’s what can be gleaned from Hamilton’s study, and what she ultimately did conclude in her findings; social context and motivation are important when discussing (or even when deciding) what is the best way that we students can approach the ever-looming issue of student financials. Ultimately, those with no parental financial support would likely not begrudge some, and those who do get a “free ride” from mom and dad most definitely do their best to make it if that well were to ever dry up.

Regardless of the approach, we’re all in the same boat just trying to steer it into port.

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