It's a common goal clients tell financial planners. And planners generally run some calculations and, based on a variety of assumptions, determine an amount needed to be saved in order to meet that goal. But recent research suggests doing so may not actually be helping clients' children out. In fact, parents fully paying for a child's education could actually be harmful to the child's progress in college!
We Seem To Know This Somehow
There's been plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that children who have to fund part of their college educations perform better. I've discussed this with other planners in that past. Heck, I can speak from personal experience. My GPA rose dramatically (much more than indicated in the study below) once my parents limited the amount they paid toward my college education and I began working 20+ hours per week to make up the difference! But using anecdotal evidence to guide clients is a poor practice.
Research Confirms It
Now we have a strong, research-based indication that parents should allow space for their children to put some of their own money and effort "at risk" while attending college. A report in the Associated Press, Study: Parental support sends down college GPA, reviews a study that indicates greater amounts of parental funding are correlated with a lower average GPA for students. The results:
"...parents not giving their children any aid predicts a GPA of 3.15. At $16,000 in aid, GPA drops under 3.0. At $40,000, it hits 2.95..."As noted in the article, it's important to remember that parents funding children's college education has been illustrated to greatly increase the likelihood a child actually attends and completes college. Financial planners encouraging clients not to save for college education at all certainly would not be helping clients desiring to see their children attend college.
Just Raise The Issue
However, financial planners may want to raise the topic of how much to fund with clients and what impact on academic outcome that funding may have on the client's children. While it's not the role of a financial planner to try to shape a clients' goals unless specifically asked to do so, a planner can (and likely should) help a client understand the impact of their financial decisions. This potential impact on college performance is just such an opportunity to educate our clients.
As financial planners, we have a duty to help our clients understand the numbers and help them make financial decisions to reach their goals. However, I strongly believe that we also have a duty to help our clients see beyond the numbers, to help them understand the impact their financial decisions have on a variety of factors in their lives beyond simple mathematical ones. Financial decisions can impact emotional and physical health. They can increase the likelihood of depression, or lead to more risk-taking.
Maybe a financial decision will lead to a child doing more poorly in college than expected.