Involving Grandparents in the College Experience

Grandparents are everywhere!  According to U.S. Census information, more than one in every four adults in the United States is a grandparent.  Most of those grandparents are Baby Boomers in the 45 to 64 age range.  That means that most college students in the United States are likely to have at least one grandparent in their life.  The trends indicate that this number will continue to grow to 80 million grandmothers and grandfathers, or nearly one in three adults in America, by 2020 and that American grandparents will continue to play a central role in the lives of their grandchildren and their adult children.

Financial assistance – the most obvious connection

The MetLife Report on American Grandparents is based on a nationwide survey of adults aged 45 or more who have grandchildren under the age of 25.  This survey highlights some information about today’s grandparents and at least some of the connections that they have with their college aged grandchildren.

  • 63% of those surveyed said that they are giving some type of financial assistance or monetary gifts (of any kind) to their grandchildren.
  • 70% are giving less than $5000 and the median amount is $3000.
  • 26% of those surveyed are contributing to their grandchild’s education
  • 68% of those surveyed said they are not giving any financial advice or guidance to their grandchildren.
  • Of those grandparents helping with educational costs, 46% said they are contributing to an educational fund and 24% are helping fund a college education (others may be helping with preschool, elementary or high school costs).

These statistics give one important snapshot of a relationship between college students and their grandparents.  Financial assistance is clearly an important piece.  When the connection between college students and grandparents is discussed, the topic is overwhelmingly around the ways in which grandparents can best financially help their college student – how much to contribute, when to contribute, how to contribute.  But there’s more.

Less obvious connections

We know that financial connection is important.  However, it is important that college students, their parents, and their grandparents remember that there are many important ways, beyond the financial aspects, that grandparents and students can, and should, be connected.  Grandparents want to help their grandchildren, and passing on their knowledge and wisdom is an important way to help.

According to a survey conducted by AARP, grandparents clearly see themselves in an important role as shapers of another generation.

  • 78% have discussed morals and values with their grandchildren.
  • 66% have discussed religion and spirituality.
  • 61% have spoken to their grandchildren about the child’s general problems or health.

Several research studies tell us that college students who have a strong support system at home do better in college.  As college parents, we work hard to provide that support system.  We may even think about how to involve siblings in our college student’s life.  Sometimes, however, we may forget an important source of continued support for our college student – grandparents.

Because most grandparents are not responsible for the day to day support of their grandchildren, not so caught up in daily details, they may be more easily able to recognize the adult that their grandchild is attempting to become.  They can maintain open lines of communication and provide an important support system and sounding board for their grandchild.

Not all college students may have grandparents who are able to be involved in their grandchild’s college life, but there are many different ways that grandparents might contribute to the student’s experiences.  One survey of students indicated that relationships with grandparents or significant elders influenced their life choices, values and goals.  These relationships gave students a sense of self, of roots, of tradition.  Another study found that student perceptions of their relationships with grandparents were generally positive.  They felt affection and respect for their grandparents.

How grandparents can get involved

So if grandparents want to be involved, and are able to be involved, here are a few suggestions about how they might participate in helping to support their college student.

  • Grandparents may want to visit the college.  They might participate in Family Weekend, or, depending on distance, make a visit to have lunch or dinner with the student or attend a sporting or cultural event.  The student may enjoy showing off his new “home” to his grandparents, and they will be able to better visualize his environment.
  • Grandparents can stay in touch through all of the normal modes of contactsnail mail (student’s love to find something in their mailboxes), care packages, e-mail, and yes, maybe even Facebook!
  • Students and grandparents may have phone (or Facetime or Skype) conversations.  Grandparents can often offer a different perspective on issues than parents.  Students are sometimes even more comfortable talking about personal concerns with grandparents.  One study found that as many as 62% of college students communicated with a grandparent a few times per month.
  • Many students receive financial support from grandparents.  They also, however, often receive important emotional support as well.  Relationship with grandparents, because it is often more voluntary at this age than relationships with parents, are especially valued.

Students are negotiating new roles for themselves during the college years.  They need to find a new way of relating to parents, to siblings, and to other friends and family members.  The relationship between a college student and a grandparent can be especially important during this time because it may be changing less than some of the other relationships in the student’s life.  As the college parent, you might help both your college student and her grandparents determine how to establish and maintain this important relationship. The wider your student’s safety net and support system extends, the better your student’s chances of success.

Related articles:

Ten Ways to Reach Out Through Your College Student’s Campus Mailbox

Sending Your Student the Best College Care Package Ever

Sending Your Student to College Might Improve Your Relationship

Cheering Your College Student On from a Distance


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