Parental emotional support is a key factor in college success for low-income students, according to a new study by Josipa Roksa, a professor of sociology and education at the University of Virginia, and Peter Kinsley, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While low-income parents may have limited financial resources to contribute to their children’s education, their research shows that these families tend to be highly attentive to the emotional well-being of their college-going children — support that the data show pays off for students academically.
The study surveyed 728 first-year students who had applied for financial aid at eight different four-year institutions. It asked them questions about the financial and emotional support provided by their families, how active they were on campus, and how academically successful they were.
The link between parental emotional support and academic achievement proved to be significant. Students who reported receiving high levels of support from their families were 19 percent more likely than their peers to have a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Such students were also 19 percent more likely to earn more credits and 24 percent more likely to stay in school after their freshman year. Furthermore, students who reported high levels of support from their families also reported feeling a greater sense of belonging on campus.
According to Kinsley and Roska, these findings are significant as they suggest a need for colleges and universities to do a better job of reaching out to parents. Institutions of higher education often resist opportunities to engage families in campus life out of concern that such interactions will interfere with students’ integration into college. However, the results of this study indicate that institutions can be more effective in supporting student success by providing opportunities for them to connect with their families throughout the year, beyond the standard parent orientations and family weekends hosted by most colleges.
The sample size for the survey was predominantly white and limited to students at colleges and universities in Wisconsin. Roksa says that a more diverse sample size would reveal an even stronger correlation between emotional support and academic achievement.