The Best College-Aid Program

The rising cost of a college education, coupled with the federal government’s eagerness to expand levels of student loans allegedly to make higher education more affordable, means that the average senior graduates with not only a degree but also a debt note of $20,000. These numbers get a lot of press, but almost no attention has been directed to a major cause of student debt: having divorced or remarried parents. According to a study by sociologists at Rice University, collegians whose parents are not married to each other face significantly heavier financial burdens for the simple reason that married parents, relative to other parents, contribute significantly more to their children’s college education. Looking at data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey, Ruth N. López Turley and Matthew Demond compared the financial contribution of parents by marital status to their children’s education using a sample of 2,400 undergraduates during the 1995–96 academic year. These older data were mined because they were the most recent data that included parental interviews reporting their financial contributions toward their children’s education. In every measure--and in descriptive analyses as well as in multivariate regressions that controlled for factors that might explain the parental marital-status difference--the researchers found that marital status was the most significant and consistent determinant of the amount of money parents contribute toward their children’s college expenses in a wide range of measures. Married parents not only contributed more in absolute terms to their children’s education than divorced parents ($4,700 median amount per year vs. $1,500 per year; p<.001) but also gave a larger proportion of their income to their children’s education (8 percent vs. 6 percent, p<.05). Married parents also outscored remarried parents in absolute ($4,700 per year vs. $2,490; p<.001) and proportional terms (8 percent of in
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