As college parents of the millennial generation of students, we have spent most of our children’s lives actively involved in most of what they do. Parents have been told throughout their children’s lives that the more involved that they were, the better their children would fare. Most colleges and universities are currently working to learn how to best involve this generation of parents in the lives of their students at the college level, not by soliciting more involvement, but by channeling our energies appropriately.
In several of our earlier posts, we have discussed ways in which parents can shift to a coaching model with their student as well as how parents might communicate with the college. In this post, we take a look at ways in which many colleges are reaching out to help parents find their place in their student’s college experience.
Two decades ago, most colleges and universities paid very little attention to communication or programming for college parents. Parents dropped their students off at the beginning of freshman year and, with the exception of a possible Parents’ Weekend in the fall, had very little official involvement with the school until Commencement. Today, as colleges begin to recognize parents as partners in student support, more and more schools are establishing offices on campus whose primary responsibility is Parent Relations. The scope of services provided by such an office is continually expanding as parents insist on involvement and schools attempt to maximize and channel “helicopter parent” enthusiasm. Colleges are paying attention.
Most colleges which have a Parent Relations or similar office or position, have added that position since 1990. Thirty-nine percent of those offices have been added within the last ten years. Depending on the institution, parent services may be housed in differing areas of the school. They may be in a Dean’s office, an Institutional Advancement office (majority of private schools), an Alumni office, a Public Relations office, or a Student Affairs office (majority of public institutions). Often the person in charge of a Parent Relations program does not have that responsibility as their full-time job.
The reaching out to parents done by colleges may take many forms. Some schools use one form of contact, while other schools may use several forms. Contact may include a designated Parent Relations office, on-line or hard-copy newsletters to parents, availability of resources or help, hotlines, a parent council or parent committee, a parent handbook, parent website, parent orientation, parent workshops, local groups or clubs, or opportunities to volunteer at events such as parent weekends, open houses, admissions or career events.
According to a 2009 survey conducted by the College Parents of America, 53% of schools offered a website for parents, 40% offered an electronic newsletter, 30% had a parent office, 50% mailed a newsletter to parents, and 41% offered a parent orientation program. Sixty percent of parents surveyed felt satisfied with the level of services to parents offered by their student’s school.
As a college parent, you can learn about and take advantage of any programming for parents offered by your student’s school. It is a great way to stay in touch with the school in an appropriate way and to send a message to your student that you continue to be involved with his education while still allowing him his growing independence. If your student’s school does not offer parent services of any kind, you might encourage them to explore possibilities. You might even offer to help organize a parent event – either on campus, or more locally at home.
Colleges are recognizing that parents wish to continue to be involved with their students’ education. Today’s institutions are exploring ways to channel parent enthusiasm appropriately. As we have said in several earlier posts, parent communication during the college years should be primarily with your college student rather than directly with the institution. However, Parent Relations offices and programs are an ideal way to appropriately maintain contact with your student’s school while still giving your student some distance.