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Rethinking Parent Engagement in Higher Ed

4 min read

Parents are very involved in their children's college search process. According to a recent study by Niche, parental involvement has grown five-fold since the pandemic. 

Some other key takeaways from Niche’s study:

  • 12% of parents said they primarily searched for colleges search for their child, and 88% searched with their child
  • This compares to only 4% who said they searched for colleges on behalf of their child in 2020

CampusESP collaborated with RNL on a Prospective Family Engagement Report, that found 74% of parents want weekly communications from institutions in 2021. Dave Becker, CEO of CampusESP joined us in a recent live event and also shared that this statistic has significantly increased over the years and will continue to do so in 2022. 

With the influence from families on a student’s college decision being tremendous, rethinking your parent engagement strategy is worth considering. When you make parents and guardians your partner in the enrollment process, you’re putting the needs of the student first.

 

What’s most important to parents

The main objective for parents is the success of their children, but that can mean different things to different families.

According the Niche survey, graduation rate was the most important statistic when assessing the quality of a school. This was followed by job placement, acceptance rate, and retention.

 

Strategies for leveraging parental engagement

If you want to connect with parents, start early. One in four parents start the college search for their kids before their child's junior year. In contrast, about 19% of students begin looking into schools at that time. 

Get their email address and phone numbers at events so you can help them guide their children through the process. If your school’s website has a chatbot, have specific playbooks for parents who are there to ask questions.

Once you’ve established contact with a parent or guardian, it’s important to set up expectations for communication. When a parent knows what to expect, they’ll feel like they have more control over the process. 

This will be an incredibly stressful time for parents, especially if this is their first time enrolling a child in college. Do your best to relieve their anxiety and always make yourself available to answer questions, even if they don’t ask at first.

If you don't get contact information during the admissions process, don't sweat it. You can certainly reach out to parents of current students to get them involved. 

 

Create a page for parents on your website

There should be a designated place on your school’s website for parents, and this page should be easy to find. A parent page should include things parents are most interested in:

  • Frequently asked questions
  • Important dates and upcoming deadlines
  • Parent-specific events
  • Cost calculators
  • Finical aid information
  • Campus programs
  • Safety information

Video content has a high impact and is useful in explaining processes. Because college is such a big investment, show proof of ROI with outcome metrics, alumni success stories, and graduation rates. 

 

Share available resources

Cost is a significant consideration, yet you’d be surprised to know how many families do not take advantage of opportunities available. A good way to combat potential sticker shock is to avail parents of potential tuition assistance and scholarships.

Over 20% of low-income households (earning less than $50,000 per year) did not file a FAFSA in 2021. Parents frequently say that they didn’t know about FAFSA or weren’t confident that they would receive anything. FAFSA submissions were highest among families earning $50-80,000 at 92%.

Let's also take about parents as donors. Why wait until a student graduates to see if parents are interested in donating to your institution?

Advancement teams should build relationships with parents when their student is attending your school to expedite their giving efforts and keep them coming in the future. 

 

Communicate frequently

It can be tough to gauge how often to contact families. But the good news is, parents want to receive communications from your school. 

Using texts in conjunction with emails is the best way to make sure you’re getting through. Just remember, you want to keep parents and students engaged, but you don’t want to trigger texting opt-outs. Send texts that are informational and include a call-to-action. 

Don’t be afraid to be transparent when communicating with parents or supporters. Use their names instead of generic language like, “to the parents of [STUDENT NAME]...” Personalization is key to building relationships and creates a better engagement experience. 

 

Learn more parent engagement strategies in our latest For Your Institution episode below. Join us live for the next FYI by registering here



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