Photo by Travis Johnson, Flickr CC

Parents of all backgrounds want their children to receive the best education possible, but what sets wealthy “helicopter parents” apart is that they have the resources to ensure it happens. A recent article in The Washington Post describes the role of “college concierges” — affluent parents that meticulously map out important college opportunities for their child — in widening the gap between their own children and children from working-class families, whose parents may not know how to guide their child through the college process.

The article draws from a study by social scientists Laura HamiltonJosipa Roksa, and Kelly Nielsen about the role parents play in college students’ lives. The authors find that female students from wealthy families graduate at a rate of 75 percent, while their counterparts from low-income families only graduate at a rate of 40 percent. To explain this discrepancy, the authors give an example of two students interested in dentistry — one from a wealthy family accepted into her top-choice dental school, and the other from a poorer family who was not admitted. 

“[The] one from an affluent family…had reviewed applications years earlier and knew what she needed to do to get in…. [The other student’s] parents didn’t know what was required — such as job shadowing — nor did they realize her slipping grades would disqualify her from getting admitted. She ended up as a dental assistant making $11 an hour, a job that didn’t even require a bachelor’s degree.”

Instead of criticizing affluent parents’ behavior, the article’s author suggests we should direct our energy towards providing guidance to students without it, in order to close success gaps like the one illustrated in this study. 

 “Simply providing more aid or more help in getting admitted isn’t enough…. Schools also need to put in place programs — and pay for them — that help middle- and lower-income students find the right mentors, get spots in study-abroad programs and internships, and navigate the often confusing and tricky journey to graduation.”