The Effects of Parental Educational Attainment on Student Loan Debt

The Effects of Parental Educational Attainment on Student Loan Debt



Megan J.F. Will


This project was selected for inclusion in the 2021 Graduate Student Showcase. The poster and a three-minute recording of the presentation are available in that collection.


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While the student loan crisis has been reviewed and studied from multiple perspectives, one area lacking in research is the effect a parent’s level of education has on the type of, amount of, and involvement in their child’s student loans. In order to address this issue, this study asked the following two questions: (1) Is there a relationship between the level of education parents complete and their degree of participation in completing their children’s financial aid and student loan applications? (2) Will a student whose parent(s) has some level of post-secondary educational attainment be less likely to take on private loans than a student whose parent(s) has no post-secondary educational attainment? To answer this question, an online survey was sent to 4,660 undergraduate students at a private four-year institution located in the Midwest who had student loan indicators on their bursar accounts. Data from respondents (n = 353) indicated that as their parent(s)’s level of education increased, their involvement in the student loan process, particularly in completing the FAFSA and in deciding how much money their child should borrow, increased. Survey results also indicated parents with higher levels of education were more likely to encourage their children to take on federal loans over private loans. By utilizing these findings, recruiters and financial aid officers can improve educational practices to help first-generation students and their parents better understand the student loan process and the implications of borrowing to pay for higher education.

Publication Date


Project Designation

Graduate Research

Primary Advisor

Graham F. Hunter

Primary Advisor's Department

Counselor Education


Stander Symposium project, student affairs, School of Education and Health Sciences

The Effects of Parental Educational Attainment on Student Loan Debt