The Powerful Role Parents Play in Whether Kids Go to College

The college admissions scandal that made the news recently revealed the lengths some parents will go to ensure their kids get into a well-known college. Wealthy parents had allegedly paid a college prep organization to correct their students’ SAT or ACT test scores, and in some cases, take the tests for them. Prosecutors also accused the organization of bribing college coaches to help get their clients’ kids into colleges using fake athletic bios. To date, students have not been charged in this scandal and many were not even aware of their parents’ interventions.

“The parents are the prime movers of this fraud,” U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Andrew E. Lelling said during a March 12 news conference.

Clearly, some parents are strongly motivated to help their kids get into college. But even when parents don’t go to such extreme measures, they can and do play an important role in their child’s college or career path.

Several studies conclude that parents may only need to believe in their kids to influence whether they go to college!

According to one study by researchers from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics, if parents believe their children will go to college, it’s nearly a foregone conclusion that will be the case. The researchers determined that when it comes to attending college and academic accomplishment, parents’ attitudes about college and their expectations not only influence but serve as a strong predictor of student success.

“Parents who saw college in their child’s future seemed to manage their child toward that goal, irrespective of their income and other assets,” explains Neal Halfon, MD, MPH, the study’s senior author. According to the study, “Whether or not parents expected their children to attend college was a key factor in the children’s success.”

Halfon, director of the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families, and Communities and a professor of pediatrics, public health, and public policy, based his conclusions on studying test results of 6,600 children. Research results appeared in Pediatrics, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“The big surprise was what a strong role parents’ long-term goals for their children played in predicting their math and reading abilities,” Halfon says.

Additionally, expectations from parents about whether or not they expected their children to attend college goes a long way toward determining a child’s education path. The study concludes: “Of the children with the lowest test scores, 57 percent were expected by their parents to go to college. Of those who scored the highest, 96 percent were expected to attend college.”

Those “expectations” can become reality based on the kind of discussions parents have with their children at an early age, particularly talks centering on the sacrifices necessary and benefits obtained by attending college. The nature of those parent–child discussions about college can also hinge on socioeconomic factors, which UCLA researchers found, not surprisingly, to weigh heavily on academic success.

“Our findings suggests there are a range of behaviors that parents can adopt and services they can provide to help their young children get better prepared for their educational journey,” notes the UCLA study’s lead author, Kandyce Larson, PhD. “In addition to fostering educational activities, such as reading to their children on a daily basis, parents can also adopt a mindset that focuses on a pathway that will lead their child to college.”

Michaele Charles, a blogger for Front Range Community College of Colorado, notes that children will take cues from their parents when it comes to continuing their education.

“If you show your children that you believe school is important by making it a priority, holding high expectations, encouraging them to work hard, and caring about their school work, you will have a positive impact,” Charles writes. “Similarly, if you talk with your children about college, set the expectation that they will go to college, and share your belief that college is an important part of the life journey, it will rub off.”

And while you’re at it, remind them that cheating never pays!

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