Can't Buy Grades: The More You(r Parents) Pay For College, The Worse Your Grades Will Be Sean Morrow

College is expensive. Too expensive, probably, but I don’t have time for that debate right now. There are lots of ways to pay for it. For some people, the singular way to pay for it is obvious: have your parents cover it. Those people are the very rich, the privileged. And a new study says something interesting about those whose parents cover a lot of their tuition:

They’re not good at college.

Inside Higher Ed reports, “The more money (in total and as a share of total college costs) that parents provide for higher education, the lower the grades their children earn.”

Woah. Okay. So this is probably the hardest blog I’ve ever had to write for HelloGiggles: it’s hard to be positive and snarkless about something like this, because it’s absolutely hilarious. I have an excellent mental picture of the type of student that this study is attacking, but detailing this archetype would be a little too mean.

Let’s refer to what the real scientists – in this case Laura Hamilton, an assistant professor in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts at the University of California – have to say about this: “This finding backs the idea that parental financial support can act as a ‘moral hazard’ in that students make decisions about how seriously to take their studies without having personally made the investment of cash in their educations.”

I consider airing financial status to be a bit uncouth, so I won’t say my exact situation with regard to college funding, but I will say that I am very familiar with FAFSA. Not having to work for something might mean you value it less, or take it for granted. If you’re struggling financially to attend college, you’re theoretically going to juice all the knowledge out of those four years that you can.

Someone who has an education handed to them–along with the connections and resources an affluent family presumably provides–might see less reason to fight for a symbolic marker of academic worth. But why wouldn’t they care about the knowledge that giving a crap in college can provide?

The dichotomy between caring about knowledge and caring about your report card is interesting, there’s even a third option: caring about getting your degree. The three form a Venn diagram, with overlaps in groups. A knowledge-seeker went to college to learn things, they have a major they’re passionate about, do extra reading, and have a lot more luck with classes in their field than in boring required classes centered around rote memorization. They might slack off in something they don’t care about to do extra work in something they do care about. They care.

A grade monger excels in rote memorization and tests, keeping an organized notebook, but getting rid of notes at the end of the semester to stay tidy. Their favorite book is one they had to read for school; they have never read a book for pleasure.

Someone who only cares about graduating realizes that, unless you plan to go to grad school or very specific career fields, your grades in college don’t matter. With American college as it is, just graduating is really a matter of simply showing up. A degree can be bought with enough money and enough hours of sitting in class, anyone could do it.

Sure, it is silly to categorize people like this, but it might help us figure out the motivation behind those that have college handed to them and don’t give it their all, and those that fight for college and fight for good grades.

Could some other factor come into it? Did a rich kid never have to get a job and develop a work ethic? Does an underprivileged kid feel terrified of wasting a college education?

What do you think of the study? Have a chat in the comments.

Featured image via Tanya Knight

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  1. This post isn’t saying that ALL kids whose parents pay for their education get bad grades, just that it seems to be the trend. I have noticed that most of the kids in my college whose parents can pay for their education tend not to care about their grades but that is not the case for all them of course.

  2. To be privileged doesn’t always mean not exceeding in college. I know people from rich families who actually take their education so seriously and as a result of their hard work, they are admitted into the Dean’s list. It all falls down to how the parents raised the child and how the child views education. On the other hand, parents who do have children whom only want to not take their education seriously in college should take them aside and talk to them. Perhaps said children shouldn’t pursue college if their only purpose is to party as college isn’t suited for everyone. However, it is rare to see someone become the next Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerburg.

  3. My parents pay for my university education. However, in contradiction to your perspective, I have not received below a B in any classes and only have three on my transcript as is. So, I do not agree with the idea that a privileged kid won’t do well in school because they have everything handed to them. It has to do with the kind of person they have developed into. I am, in fact money conscious. I have been considerate enough to not waste my parent’s money. The kids who do waste it are only hindering their own education. Also, the categorical dichotomies in this study are incredibly too harsh.

  4. I definitely believe this. I will admit I had everything handed to me all through high school and then my parents paid for my first two years of college (and all my books, etc) all out of pocket, and then I had to pay for my final 3 years (which tells you how well I did my first two years of school) after the economy caused them to shut down their new home construction business. I realized I had wasted so much of my parents money failing classes and taking all these classes that had no direct path because they seemed fun. The 3 years I was paying for my books and racking up tons of student loan debt for myself I was on the deans list, completed a successful psychology experiment, and was well liked by several of my professors. My situation is probably more exaggerated than the norm, but still.