Emotional support improves performance among low-income college students, study shows

According to a new study published in Research in Higher Education, first-year, low-income students who received more emotional support from family members were more likely to obtain a 3.0 grade point average and go on to succeed in their second year of college.

“Low-income families have a particular resource that they have plenty of and that they invest in their children, and that’s emotional support,” Josipa Roksa, author of the study and a professor of sociology and education at the University of Virginia, told Inside Higher Ed. “We shouldn’t underestimate that value and the importance of that resource.”

Roksa and Peter Kinsley, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, surveyed over 700 low-income students at several four-year institutions who applied for financial aid in Wisconsin, according to Inside Higher Ed. They asked the students about financial and emotional family support, campus engagement, and academic outcomes, finding that emotional support had an impact on student success—but that financial support did not.

The researchers note that colleges are doing less family engagement overall because of concerns about “helicopter” parents—a phenomenon more prevalent among higher-income families—and add that there’s particular disengagement with lower-income families.

“The general assumption is that because [low-income] families don’t have social/cultural capital, they can’t contribute that much. We’re saying that’s wrong,” said Roksa, adding that engagement needs to be ongoing, rather than limited to one-off events like family weekends.

The researchers caution that their sample was disproportionately white and from STEM disciplines, suggesting that a more diverse sample might have produced even more dramatic results.

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