Hamilton found grants, scholarships, work-study, student employment and veterans benefits don't have similar negative effects on GPA, though loans do, along with direct parental aid. She suggests that's because loans and unconditional parental grants have no immediate strings attached, whereas scholarships and grants often carry GPA requirements. There may also be a psychological effect. With grants, "students feel like they've earned them in some way" and want to justify them.
Hamilton said the findings don't suggest parents should stop supporting students financially, especially considering there is a larger positive effect on graduation rates than the negative effect on GPA. But they should lay out standards and expectations. And even if parents can afford the whole bill, it may be worthwhile to make students put up some of their own funds, or work part-time, so they feel invested.
In her broader research on the topic, Hamilton says she's found some parents signal it's OK to take advantage of their support for a more social experience.
"Some parents were 100 percent complicit in this," she said. "They absolutely wanted their children to go to school and party hard. They told me explicitly it's not about grades, it's about having fun, the best years of your life."
"Now for some families it all works out OK," she said. "The 'best years of your life' idea has trickled down to what everybody thinks college should be. But not everybody can afford for college to be like that. And they pay for that for a long time."
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