Students head to college, not their parents; and students are, obviously, the main focus of the colleges they attend. But even when your student goes to college, you are still part of the total picture of your student’s experiences, and colleges are recognizing your importance more and more. In spite of all of the negative press about “helicopter parents” or “snowplow parents,” your appropriate involvement is important.
As an indication of the importance of parents to the college experience, many schools now have a staff member, or perhaps an entire office, dedicated to working with parents. Recently, college personnel who work with parents and families at their institutions met in Savannah, GA to compare notes and share ideas at the fourth annual conference of AHEPPP – the Association of Higher Education Parent Program Professionals. More than 160 colleges and universities are represented in the organization. Parents, you matter to your students’ institutions!
If you haven’t discovered the Parent Office at your student’s institution, you might want to investigate whether there is one. This office may communicate regularly with parents, or may be responsible for running events such as Orientation or Parents/Family Weekend. According to a survey conducted biennially by the University of Minnesota since 2003, 23% of those responding to the survey this year said their office had been newly established in the past five years.
Parent offices or programs have varying responsibilities at their institutions. Three-fourths of those who responded to the Minnesota survey have a parent link on the college website. (Have you found that link on your student’s institutional homepage?) Other services may include, conducting Student and Parent Orientation, conducting Family Weekend, communicating with parents through newsletters and social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or other forms, translating materials for non-English speaking families, maintaining e-mail contact with parents, responding to parent questions, coordinating a Parent Council or Parent Advisory Board, fundraising, providing a college calendar for families, conducting programs for siblings, creating a parent handbook, or organizing summer send-off or other regional events. Some schools have very active, high profile programs, and others quietly support families.
This year’s AHEPPP conference had information sessions covering a wide range of topics including crisis communication, how to use digital media to reach out to parents, creating connections with families, helping parents of students with disabilities, the importance of families in student success and retention, first year transition, and how to support families as they support their students.
Why should college parents care about an organization such as AHEPPP? We think it is important for parents to understand that many schools recognize the importance of the influence that parents have on their students. Most schools want to partner in some way with parents to better support students. Clearly, both schools and parents have the same goal – student success.
Of course, a good partnership involves everyone working to make it successful. Investigate what services your student’s school provides for parents. Take advantage of what they offer. Perhaps suggest ideas for programming or support that you would find helpful. Ask whether you can help. Some schools recruit parents as admission ambassadors or as career mentors.
And maybe even remember to thank the college staff for their help. . .