PracticalDad and College:  Involving the Parents

Now Marymount sends parents postcards several times a year, invites them to parents-only events and publishes a full-color "Guide for Parents."  It is one of a growing number of schools to discover that it’s not enough to communicate with prospective students.  The colleges are also wooing parents who are digitally tethered to their offspring and want more involvement than writing a tuition check.

 – Washington Post: College Catering to Curious Parents As Well As Prospective Students (April 9, 2011)

Colleges are discovering "that it’s not enough to communicate with prospective students."  And while there is "digital tethering" involved by some parents, the reality is that many parents are truly concerned about the cost and prospective debtload.  We’re involved because we’re not stupid.

We’re now fully engaged in the college courtship process as Eldest is wooed by multiple colleges and universities, which range from huge University of Southern Cal and Georgia Tech to tiny Belmont Abbey College.  She’s gone with her mother to several college open houses and will go to several more as interests and options are explored and I’m honestly surprised to think that the higher learning institutions wouldn’t include significant activities for the parents.  I’m honestly surprised that this piece of common sense hadn’t occurred to the marketin…er, admissions folks before now.  To their credit, the institutions visited thus far have had excellent sessions for students and parents, some both together and separate so not every university has climbed aboard the Crazy Train.  The dean of one college honors program endeared himself to my wife when he stated that one of their primary goals was to provide the best education possible without hanging a mortgage around a kid’s neck.

This generation has produced a signficant number of parents who are overly-involved, so much so that the term helicopter parent was coined.  We love our kids and perhaps since many grew up in divorced households, have gone too far in the direction of involvement and protection.  But parents have something our kids lack in spades, and that’s experience.  If a kid has a decent chance of incurring a mortgage sized debt by the age of 23, then he should be shepherded through a visit that’s heavy on fun and light on such questions as faculty/student ratios, facilities, financing and work-study programs.  There’s a local private college nearby that prides itself on a modern student center replete with Mongolian Grill, and if that’s the tripe that’s talked about with the kids, then parents need to be greatly involved.  When I first heard about this the other year, my thought was Mongolian Grill?  Hell, where are the Mongolians?

Why do we plan to be involved with the college decision?

  • Because the cost of higher education has grown at significantly higher rates of inflation than the core CPI monitored by the government and is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.
  • Because the cost of higher education is now significantly more disproportionate to the average family income than it was thirty or forty years ago.
  • Because that many more families are now tasked with funding their own retirements than thirty or forty years ago, when our parents and grandparents had pensions.
  • Because good jobs for the youngsters are increasingly hard to come by and it’s increasingly less likely that Junior is going to be able to obtain an entry level position that will permit him to service the debt load on non-dischargeable student loans.
  • Because we understand that there’s life beyond college and that young adults should have the opportunity to live, travel and enjoy life before settling down to raise children.
  • Because we understand that children are expensive and that our grandchildren will be impacted by the money spent on servicing college debt instead of helping provide for them.
  • Because one of the first adult decisions facing teenagers is one with huge financial implications, involving factors with which these teens have little experience.

There are two comments from the article that stand out in my mind after reading the article.  The first is from a parent:

Even when parents try to hang back, it’s hard not to get involved, said Allen Barnett of Tuxedo Park, NY, who toured American (University) with his 17-year-old son, Cameron, during spring break last month.

Barnett said he tries to keep his opinions to himself as he shows his son college options.  But at the end of the search, he said, "you always want to make sure they don’t make a mistake."

The second is from an "admissions marketing consultant" who stated:

"If I could ban parents from the campus visit, I would.  They take the fun out of it…People are still trying to figure out these parents."

To Mr. Barnett, I would say that he’s not hurting his son or disrespecting his decision-making skills by sharing his opinions.  This doesn’t constitute something only in the "mistake" category.

And to the admissions marketing consultant, I can only say that I hope you have triplets.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *