With the ever increasing costs associated with higher education, the more inclined parents may be to put more money into their children’s college fund.

Inside Higher Ed contributor Scott Jaschik reports on a study that shows this approach may have unintended consequences.

Much discussion about higher education assumes that the children of wealthy parents have all the advantages, and they certainly have many. But a new study reveals an area where they may be at a disadvantage. The study found that the more money (in total and as a share of total college costs) that parents provide for higher education, the lower the grades their children earn.

The findings — particularly grouped with other work by the researcher who made them — suggest that the students least likely to excel are those who receive essentially blank checks for college expenses.

The study — “More Is More or More Is Less?” — is by Laura Hamilton, an assistant professor in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts at the University of California at Merced, and was just published by the American Sociological Review (abstract available here), the flagship journal of the American Sociological Association.

Hamilton used data from three longitudinal federal databases — the Baccalaureate and Beyond Study, the Beginning Postsecondary Students Study, and the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study. And she compared parental contributions and grades. Significantly, she also controlled for factors such as parental socioeconomic status. She argues in the paper that high wealth levels are associated with higher parental financial contributions, but also with other factors that contribute to academic performance (such as better high school educations, high aspirations for higher education, and so forth). Without controlling for socioeconomic status, those other factors may mask differences in patterns based solely on parental financial contributions.

And here she found — across all types of four-year institutions — the greater parental contributions were, the lower the student grades were.

According to Jaschik’s report, Hamilton does not place all the blame students for these trends. The researcher indicated that colleges and universities “play an important role” that needs more examination.

When she has presented about her research to faculty members, many have seemed uncomfortable about the implications for their own children. Hamilton has two young children (too young, she said, for them to be worried about her research). She said that she does “plan fund a considerable portion of my kids’ college experience,” but she added, “not without a conversation about the job of the student.”