Helicopter parenting is fuelling inequality among college students


In the popular imagination, college offers an opportunity for young people to strike out on their own, away from the watchful eye of parents with the safety net of an educational institution.

But a new study suggests that for some affluent students, college is an experience still managed largely by their parents — and that may be fueling inequality.

The research isn’t definitive, but it’s backed up by previous studies on the issue. It’s based on interviews with only 41 families of young women who lived on the same floor in a dorm at a major public university in the Midwest. But it helps paint a picture of the different resources available to students as they navigate college life. The study also indicates that the variation in resources affects students’ life post-college.

Of the affluent families studied, 87% of parents served as what the researchers described as a “college concierge” for their daughters — talking with them regularly, guiding them to certain majors tutors and academic-focused clubs, providing them contacts for internships and jobs, and even helping to manage their admission into sororities.

In contrast, just 33% of the less-affluent families were heavily involved in their daughters’ college careers, but it made little difference because they didn’t have the resources and connections to necessarily guide their daughters’ successfully. For example, one middle-class family pushed their daughter towards a law school with a shoddy reputation.

“Affluent parents often use their resources to ensure their children have a qualitatively better educational experience at every level,” said Laura Hamilton, a sociology professor at the University of California-Merced and one of the authors of the study. “Parents’ class backgrounds remain really salient for children’s success all the way through their experiences.”

The so-called college concierge service appears to matter, the research finds. Within a year of graduating, 78% of the daughters of the affluent families had a job requiring a bachelor’s degree or were in a graduate program. If they were working they earned between $30,000 and $60,000. In the less-affluent group, just 17% had a job requiring a bachelor’s degree or were in graduate school within six years and the highest earner was making just $40,000 a year.

“This is no longer about merit or ability, this is about what you’re born into,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton’s study cites the fortunes of two aspiring dental students, one from a wealthy family and one from a less-affluent family. Taylor, the more affluent student, was instructed by her mother, a college professor, to join the Crest Club, a dental-themed club on campus, where she eventually became the president. Instead of working over the summer, Taylor took classes to lighten her load during the year at the suggestion of her parents. Her mother also helped her secure a position shadowing a dentist.

Emma, the less-wealthy student, came into college with good grades and an interest in becoming a dentist. But when she started to struggle academically, her parents assumed it was part-and-parcel of the transition to college and cheered her down her intended path. Ultimately her grades weren’t good enough to get into dental school and she never received advice suggesting she should switch course. After graduating, Emma became a dental assistant in her hometown, a position that didn’t require a college degree and paid $11 an hour.

While it’s understandable for parents to want to provide their kids with whatever opportunities they can, Hamilton said, the trend has implications for the ability of college to work as an engine of economic mobility. And that is, theoretically one of its primary missions, particularly at a public institution.

“The institution needs to do more careful work on ensuring that kids that come from low-income backgrounds have the support that they need,” Hamilton said.

That’s becoming increasingly challenging at public universities, like the type where the study took place. Over the past several years, declines in state funding have meant these schools are more reliant on tuition revenue from out-of-state or otherwise affluent families. They not only seek the students who can pay full-freight or close to it, but also welcome their parents’ influence, Hamilton notes.

“When you have greater state funding for schools, you can see your state schools as a public good that was provided to state residents,” she said. “Now, because schools are looking for other sources of money, we’ve really shifted how we think about education.”


By            :               Jillian Berman

Date         :               March 5, 2018

Source     :               Market Watch


This entry was posted in Education, Latest Post, Public Sociology. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.