In a New Entering Freshmen (NEF) survey in Fall 2010, WSU asked its incoming freshmen students what their “Best estimate of parents’ total income” was. They were able to select one of seven options:
- Less than $10,000
- $10,001 to 25,000
- $25,001 to 50,000
- $50,001 to 75,000
- $75,001 to 100,000
- $100,001 to 150,000
- over $150,000
However, WSU also has this data from the FASFA financial aid application form the student/family submitted. Of the 1,633 NEF WSU took in last year, we had FASFA forms on file for 1,393 of the students and we had survey responses from 1,389 students. We had parental income data from both sources for 1,203 of these students.
For these 1,203 students for whom we had data to compare, we contrasted the parental income as reported on the NEF Survey with the Adjusted Gross Parental Income as reported on the FASFA.
Students did not know how much money their parents make.
Overall, 21% of students underestimated their parent’s income and 44% overestimated parental income, leaving only 35% of students that were correct.
Students tended to overestimate parental income, but got (slightly) better the higher their parent’s income was…
It could be that students are estimating their parent’s net income, while the FASFA reflected the parent’s adjusted gross income. However, the percent of under-estimates along with how wildly off some students are in their guess still makes the survey question data, well, questionable.
We would have found a very different frequency distribution of parental income categories had we relied on FASFA data instead of the survey:
So, why do we ask this question on the New Entering Freshmen Survey? That’s a good question, perhaps we won’t anymore.