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Do students know how much money their parents make?

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…

Distribution of parents income

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.

About Ed Callahan

I am IT staff assigned to Institutional Planning, Assessment and Research (IPAR) at Winona State University. On the best days my title is Data Analyst and I get to answer high level questions by exploring data and write-up an thorough analysis. Other appropriate titles, depending on our workload at the time, would be Reporting Specialist, Database Developer or Ad Hoc Data Request Satisfier. I'm also a boy scout leader, school board president and have an unnatural obsession with riding my motorcycle.


2 thoughts on “Do students know how much money their parents make?

  1. Thanks for doing this Ed. I have to ask…….how did you handle those ‘extreme’ responses? Mike

    Posted by Mike Cogan | November 8, 2011, 9:51 pm
    • It depends on the analysis of course, and we haven’t had a chance to do a whole lot with FASFA data. But in general, income is the classic case I tend to use when talking about skewed data and the need for non-parametric stats.

      Cool that you’ve found the blog already, it’s new to us but we have high hopes for it.

      Posted by Ed Callahan | November 8, 2011, 10:02 pm

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