In This Story:
- Albion College
- Dickinson College
- University of Tampa
- University of Vermont
- Vanderbilt University
- Wooster College
An incoming freshman and her mother at orientation for Boston College.
Some parents are more involved in their kids’ college than one might think.
Next week, 140 parents of College of Wooster students will call almost 1,400 of Wooster’s newly admitted families.
At Albion College’s orientation, parents helped new freshmen carry boxes into the dorms.
During finals at Vanderbilt University, parents will meet up for a “care package party” and exchange items to package into boxes for their kids.
Parents across the nation are recruiting high school students at college fairs, providing internship connections to college career centers, hosting admitted student lunches and engaging in their child’s college.
“Regardless of the type of school, you just see more schools making a commitment to create venues for parents to be involved,” says Anna Thomas, Vanderbilt’s director of parent and family programs.
While the concept of parent engagement has been long established, formal and official avenues for parental involvement are popping up at various universities, which Thomas says might indicate a changing and more-involved parenting style.
“The first year I did [an admissions calling program], I thought it was going to be a chore for the current parents,” says Peg Cornwell, Wooster’s assistant to the president for community trustee and parent relations.
But after eager parents’ e-mails poured in, Cornwell saw that “parents that get the calls enjoy it as much as parents who make the calls.”
Several factors are driving parents.
Stephanie Balmer, dean of admissions at Dickinson College, has seen an increase in parent participation in the last five years partly because “they have co-decided [or] co-purchased the college decision with their student and some believe that this co-decision translates into a kind of co-experience.”
“The college decision has become a family decision,” says Beth Wiser, director of undergraduate admissions at University of Vermont, “and we feel that it is important for parents to understand the benefits of a UVM education as much as students.”
For some, it is a way to aid fellow parents during a notoriously difficult time.
Joan Kuchta, a parent representative for University of Tampa, which awards actively engaged parents with free travel fare to the university, says that she loves helping “the next person who is in the same boat [she was] in.”
Karen Kline — who declares that she “bleeds” Albion’s colors and has helped out during move-in days, parent panels and a parent leadership council — says parent-to-parent communication provides a mutual understanding that “removes this from the big university thing and brings it home.”
“I can give more than money,” she says. “When you’ve been given so much, you should give some back.”
Thomas, who calls the volunteers “cheerleaders for Vanderbilt,” sees that parents enjoy feeling connected to their student experiences in their own community.
“Parents just really seem to like to get the perspective of another parent,” she says. “It’s different than hearing from an alumni or from a student. It’s relatable.”
Risa Doherty — who not only volunteers as a parent at Franklin and Marshall College but also researched the topic for a New York Times article — believes this is a “win-win” for all colleges that have adopted these methods. But she sees it happening more in smaller, private liberal art schools, which cannot afford to send official reps to every college fair.
It’s also easier to be visible and build camaraderie at a small school, says Alan Freisleben, another Franklin and Marshall parent volunteer.
“Can you imagine having a parent meeting at USC?” he says, referring to his alma mater. “You would need a coliseum … [Here] you’re not lost in the shuffle.”
While many students may not want their parents to be visible at their schools, most of the parents and administrators say this method decreases helicopter parenting.
“When you give parents knowledge, they don’t get overly involved directly in their kid’s business,” Cornwell says. “If they get a question answered that their kid is not answering … they can get that answer themselves.”
Kristin Padilla, associate director of admissions at Albion, says there are many questions that only other parents can answer, like tough inquiries about financial aid and the school’s party scene. She found that power when her and Kline attended a college fair at the high school that Kline’s children attended.
As Kline wore a purple and gold outfit and an Albion parent pin, her contributions “changed the interactions [Padilla] had with students and families.”
“I think that is a perfect example of why it helps,” Padilla says. “It makes it a little bit less transactional. It makes it a lot more personal.”
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