WHEN PARENTS OF grade-school children consider what those children will want to do after high school, the strongest indicator is the parents’ own resume and bank account.
A new poll of 1,018 Massachusetts parents with children in grades 6 to 12 found that while 57 percent of parents think their child is interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree, there are sharp differences based on the parents’ income, race, and level of educational attainment.
“This is really putting numbers to things we already sort of inherently knew,” said Jennie Williamson, state director of The Education Trust in Massachusetts, which sponsored the poll, “but I was surprised by how stark some of the numbers were.”
Almost 90 percent of parents who have advanced degrees and 70 percent of those with undergraduate degrees thought their child would also choose to pursue higher education, compared to just 29 percent of those without college degrees.
Asian parents were most certain that their children would like to pursue a bachelor’s degree, at 71 percent, followed by 59 percent of White parents, 53 percent of Black parents, and 37 percent of Latino parents. Income level was also a significant factor, with 77 percent of respondents who made over $100,000 saying their child likely wants to start a bachelor’s degree program, compared to 26 percent of those who made under $50,000.
Williamson noted the gaps in awareness of Advanced Placement courses in their children’s schools – 60 percent of White parents were familiar with the courses versus 36 and 30 percent of Black and Latino respondents. Latino parents in particular reported lower awareness about the college application and financial aid process. Almost half of Black, Latino, and Asian parents said they are familiar with early college courses, which advocates and the state have pushed as a way to help students of color in pursuing higher education.
The poll dropped one day after Gov. Maura Healey announced the MASSGrantPlus expansion, which includes $62 million of funding generated through the Fair Share Amendment, or “millionaire tax,” to cover tuition for about 25,000 students at state universities and community colleges. Pell Grant-eligible students, who come from the lowest-income families in the state, will have all tuition and fees covered as well as a stipend for books and supply costs.
Thursday’s poll, conducted by the MassINC Polling Group, slots neatly into a body of existing research and reporting on parental educational achievement’s impact on children.
Pew researchers found two years ago that first-generation college graduates have substantially lower incomes and less wealth than their peers who have college-educated parents. Young people in America are less likely than in any other advanced country to surpass their parents’ level of education, The Atlantic reported back in 2014, creating “a system that is promoting the intergenerational transmission of class,” according to Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
This week’s polling suggests that those trends start appearing when children are still relatively young, in part due to parental influence.
“As a parent, I’d say we probably think we have more influence than we do, or we’re certainly aware of the fact that kids certainly have minds of their own,” Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, said on the Horse Race podcast. “However, it is definitely true that parents are huge influences. They see themselves that way and the data bears it out. Kids are very likely to make one of a series of decisions that their parents also made, whether it’s going to college, not going to college, getting an advanced degree, not getting an advanced degree, going right into the workforce and so forth. So there’s a huge intergenerational impact that we see in the data.”
Parents surveyed across all racial groups believed that their parental influence is “very important” to their child’s college plans – with 76 percent of White and Asian parents identifying their influence as important and 88 percent of Black and Latino parents saying the same.
Yet White parents were far less likely to identify teachers, other family members, guidance counselors, college prep programs, or friends and peers as influences in the college process than families of color do. For instance, about 70 percent of Black, Latino, and Asian families said teachers were very important influences on college planning, but only 55 percent of White parents thought so.
This suggests that educational policymakers should “identify a wider variety of places where students get support from,” like college prep programs and school employees, rather than solely targeting parents for outreach about college resources, Williamson said. “Policy solutions suggest that what students and families need is more connection to high-quality navigational supports, rigorous curriculums, and guidance toward the college-going process.”