Best Practices for Higher Ed Parent Engagement

5 min read

The future of parent and family engagement is here, and parent involvement in the college experience is at an all-time high. If your school is looking for ways to leverage this involvement into positive student outcomes and giving goals, you're not alone.

First thing's first, let's get a better understanding of what's changed in the last couple of years.

Parent involvement has grown five-fold since the start of the pandemic.

Looking at year-over-year data, parents have been increasingly involved in the college experience. Que COVID-19, "the great accelerator," and we're seeing a dramatic increase.

12% of parents said they did the college search primarily for their child than together in 2021, and 88% searched with their child.

This compares to only 4% who said they searched for colleges on behalf of their child in 2020.

[💡 Key Takeaway: Parent involvement spikes over the summer when incoming students attend orientations and high school student parents begin their college search process. Take advantage of this time to engage with parents of both groups and set involvement expectations.]


This is actually a good thing.

Maybe not for student autonomy, but it appears to be for student outcomes. 

You and student parents have the same goals, for their child to safely succeed in college and graduate into a well-paying job that they enjoy.

Think of parents as your partners in your students' success. Studies show that parent engagement can improve student yield and retention. Student persistence can increase by up to 15% when students share key aspects of their academic and financial records with their parents. Students with involved parents have an 82.5% chance of enrolling in their second year compared to 72.4% of their hands-off parent peers.

Numbers don't lie, parents are here to stay and data shows parent and family involvement to be an asset when it comes to student success. So how does your school best leverage parent involvement? 


Get their contact info early.

Early bird gets the worm, early school gets the parents.

Get parent emails and phone numbers as early as you possibly can in their college search process and nurture them throughout their student's lifecycle.

[💡 Key Takeaway: Ask for their information in your RFI form, log it at an in-person event, or create a chatbot experience specifically for student parents to gather this information.]


Start out by setting parent involvement expectations as soon as you get the chance.

By proactively communicating with parents as soon as possible in the search and enrollment processes, the more you can help set involvement expectations and let them know you're on their side. 

Use this as an opportunity to relieve their anxiety. Tell them what to expect and give them some control over the process, reminding them that you are working towards the most positive outcome possible for their child.


Give them their own space.

On your website, in your text campaigns, in your email strategy. Dedicating space for parents makes them feel more welcome by your institution. To cover the bases, be sure to include:

  • Parent-specific texting campaigns
  • Direct-to-parent emails
  • A parents' section on your website
  • A parent-focused chatbot experience
  • A letter from the president to the parent when their student is admitted
  • Parent-specific events (these include financial aid appointments and parent sessions at experience days)

In each of these spaces, answer frequently asked questions and remind parents that they are an invaluable resource to your school and that they are welcome. Let parents and families know about upcoming important dates, campus programs relevant to them or their child, and services that help support their student's success.


Get personal.

These parents are your partners right? Treat them as such in your communications. Be sure to speak directly to them in your text and email campaigns, using their first names rather than the cold "to the parents of" address. They expect personalized communication from you, and not just with the right names. Segment parents into groups for targeted communications based on what they'd be most interested in hearing about. 

If your communication isn't timely, relevant, or helpful to the parent you're sending it to, don't hit send quite yet.


Be ready to communicate with these parents often.

The high reward from parent engagement does come at a cost - 76% of parents expect communication at least weekly from your institution. That means if you're texting from a CRM, you may need to invest in something more efficient that can scale with your outbound communication needs.

For leaner teams, fear not. There are ways to add weekly parent communication strategies without drowning in the additional workload. Higher ed engagement platforms are designed to help you manage these expectations and build the relationships you need, while paying for themselves in results for your school. 


What are we supposed to say to them every week?

You've got lots of options:

  • Upcoming dates and events
  • Reminders of upcoming deadlines
  • Nudge the nudger reminders for their students
  • Updates on new programs
  • Reminders and information around upcoming breaks
  • Awards and prestigious alumni features
  • Athletic team updates

The list goes on. Keep in mind, only communicate what your recipient would find valuable.