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How Parental Involvement Affects Students’ College Success

Children with “highly involved fathers” are 98 percent more likely to complete their college education, according to panelists at a Wednesday AEI event. Though we often look at the importance of marriage through a spiritual, social, or economic lens, the speakers at “Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success” argued that marriage and fatherhood are important for children’s academic success, as well.

Panelists emphasized a “growing father divide” in America: according to a 2013 Pew poll [1], fathers have more than doubled the time they spend with their children—from 2.5 hours per week to 7 hours—but this increased interaction is pretty skewed toward higher-income families. In the lower income bracket, single-parent families are increasingly common [2], and a father’s presence is often less prevalent.

W. Bradford Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project and author of When Marriage Disappears: The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America [3], believes paternal involvement makes a difference because of the additional academic, financial, and emotional support it lends to children. Fathers still earn a good portion of household income in married families, and are thus able to contribute to a child’s education via investment in good school districts, educational activities, and college tuitions. Additionally, his studies have shown that fathers are more likely to introduce their children to a work environment, athletic activities, civil society, and politics. They’re also more likely to encourage their children to be independent and to take risks (not to say mothers can’t encourage such activity—he just meant fathers, statistically speaking, are likely to encourage such things).

Kay Hymowitz, Manhattan Institute scholar and author of Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys [4], hearkened back to a time when the fathers was seen as a rather remote figure in the home, likely to seclude himself behind a newspaper or spend extra hours at the office. She applauded the fact that this stereotype is changing, and suggested that activities like Little League sports have helped foster paternal involvement. But she added that such involvement is not “trickling down,” so to speak.

How to solve this problem? The panelists agreed that, at root, parental absences are often tied to marital issues. Though we do want to provide support to single-parent homes, regardless of the marital situation at hand, it’s important to note that stable marriages often lead to stable parent/child relationships.

But Patrick Patterson, Senior Manager at ICF International, suggested that measures to include fathers in the academic and social lives of their children can have a marked difference, regardless of the marital situation at hand. Fathers should be given more tools and encouragement to be involved in students’ lives at school, in extracurriculars, and in athletics. He noted that the resources and support systems available to single mothers are much greater than those proffered to fathers, and that oftentimes fathers are called upon in negative situations (i.e., child called to the principal’s office) more often than in positive ones. He added that the earlier fathers are engaged in their children’s activities, the more likely they are to stay involved.

Another topic left relatively unmentioned by the panelists—one worth exploring in a future discussion, perhaps—is the impact that maternal higher education has on children’s academic success. During Wilcox’s presentation, he noted that mothers who dropped out of high school make less of a difference in their children’s academic success—even if they are highly involved in those children’s lives. Their academic background gives their involvement more or less clout, so to speak. If a mother has a college degree, her involvement becomes significantly more important in her child’s life.

Wilcox noted that, along with income, maternal education “matters more” to a student’s success than paternal involvement. Therefore, even though a panel on paternal involvement is very important, it seems we should also be having more discussions on women’s academic opportunities. How are we, as conservatives, supporting women’s higher education? Is there a way we can promote continued education for single mothers, as well?

Graduating from high school and finishing college are becoming increasingly difficult tasks in our current economy. Apart from the various financial factors involved, familial support has a huge impact on academic success—and it’s important for both parents, fathers and mothers, to receive the support they need.

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#1 Comment By Aaron Paolozzi On April 24, 2014 @ 11:24 am

This article made me nod and nod until the end where the author brings up women as needing help and encouragement in college. There have been a few articles recently on ACon such as this one [5] that show that rather than women being repressed in their scholastic achievement they are actually surpassing men almost everywhere.

So forgive me if I just yawn at the second to last paragraph. Women are able to help themselves and I find it silly to insinuate that they need anyone’s help but their own and their own parents.

#2 Comment By cka2nd On April 24, 2014 @ 3:41 pm

I know we have more of a divorce culture than we used to and that the welfare system provided a so-called perverse incentive to separate fathers from the mothers of their children but I am more and more convinced that the future of matrimony is directly linked to the future of wage labor. The more economically insecure you are, or your prospects look, the less likely you are going to wed, whether you come from a middle class, proletarian or lumpen proletarian family, culture or milieu.

#3 Comment By Austin Rebreh On April 24, 2014 @ 7:46 pm

The article stated that more involved fathers tend to come from a better economic background. Wouldn’t this just lead to us to conclude that the wealthier you are the more likely you are to finish college?

#4 Comment By RadicalCenter On April 24, 2014 @ 8:01 pm

“Graduating from high school is becoming an increasingly difficult task”, you say. Really? Why and how? I don’t see it.

#5 Comment By Annek On April 25, 2014 @ 9:59 am

Aaron Paolozzi:

“This article made me nod and nod until the end where the author brings up women as needing help and encouragement in college. There have been a few articles recently on ACon such as this one Men and College, Who Cares? that show that rather than women being repressed in their scholastic achievement they are actually surpassing men almost everywhere.”

I had the same exact reaction.