Why You Should Meet the Parents: The days of keeping families at arm's length and resenting their 'interference' are over.

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Date: Feb. 4, 2022
From: The Chronicle of Higher Education(Vol. 68, Issue 11)
Publisher: Chronicle of Higher Education, Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,749 words
Lexile Measure: 1110L

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"THERE'S A MOM on the phone for you" is not a sentence most college administrators or professors are usually eager to hear. We get immediate visions of "helicopter" or "lawnmower" parents swooping in to "fix" their progeny's latest complaint. A decade ago, I heard the term "B-52" used to describe parents who escalate relatively minor matters to the level of carpet-bombing threats (e.g., "I'm going to get you fired for the C you gave my son."). It's no wonder that a commonplace of campus culture has been that parents should be neither seen nor heard, except on move-in day or at commencement.

But times and the world have changed. As a modern campus leader, especially if there is an outward-facing component to your role--such as chair or dean--you should appreciate that:

* For parents, their child's college education is their most valued and worried-about investment.

* Today's college students are connected to parents much more than were previous generations. So while college should be a maturation agent, we cannot expect modern parents to just "drop off" their kids, as ours did.

* Student success in recent years has been threatened by a pandemic and its attendant financial and mental-health crises. We can't ignore the families in helping the students.

* Parents play a vital role in recruiting and retaining college students--and that role may be even more influential among various communities of race, ethnicity, class, nationality, wealth, and even region.

* Parental fears for their children's future--and commensurate concerns about safety, engagement, grades, and employability--are wholly reasonable.

* Many parents are unaware of how the academic system works and so may be forgiven for not pursuing the correct channels for resolving a question or dispute.

In these unsettling times, we must seize the initiative and work with parents--not keep them at arm's length or resent their "interference." So here are some best practices for engaging parents to everyone's benefit:

Offer compelling answers to the "why college matters" and "why choose our institution/major" questions. The GI Bill helped my father to become the first in his family to go to college. At that time, a college degree did not really need to be "sold" to boomers yearning for better lives after the traumas of the Great Depression and World War II. "Going to college" was seen as the pathway to middle-class prosperity encapsulated in the American dream.

By contrast, in a trend that accelerated in 2008 and is now, well, endemic, parents ask us directly:

* If I give you my daughter and lots of money, what will be the outcome? Will she end up in my basement with tons of debt and no prospects?...

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