Cynthia M. Fiedler, Missouri State University
Regardless of the method – email, telephone or personal visits – faculty and staff on today’s campuses should expect to hear from concerned parents of traditional-aged college students. Advisors with an unclear understanding of FERPA can almost be afraid to talk to parents and thus can prematurely end a conversation that could be beneficial. Because the millennial generation values the opinions of their parents so highly (Jayson, 2006; Tucker, 2006), many parents may have more initial credibility with students than advisors. Advisors who listen to parent concerns and respond with helpful information can make parents into valuable allies in supporting successful students. Thus it is time to develop strategies to facilitate appropriate and productive conversations between parents, advisors and students.
Productive conversations begin with an understanding of current parent/student relationships. Millennials report that they have a close relationship with their parents (Jayson, 2006) and turn to parents for help in making decisions. From “nannycams” to “drivecams,” parents have grown accustomed to watching more moves during the first 18 years than ever before. Parents also are investing more money into their students’ educations than ever before (U.S. Department of Education, 2006). Educators have noted an increase in the frequency of students consulting with parents before making academic decisions, as evidenced by the number of articles found when searching the term “helicopter parents” on the Web.
Those in charge of advisor development opportunities should consider starting a conversation among faculty and staff advisors about how to respond to parent concerns. It will be helpful to plan an agenda that encourages advisors to:
- apply customer service techniques to strained conversations.
- listen to parental concerns without interruption, identify the underlying concerns, and offer helpful suggestions.
- provide information about campus resources.
- respond without referencing information contained in a student’s record.
- assist parents in understanding institution or course-specific policies, appeal procedures, and campus deadlines without revealing federally protected information.
- refer parents to printed materials and Web sites when appropriate to increase advisor credibility and parent understanding.
- model professional behavior that, when emulated, will enable parents to find information that will help their students in the future.
- become familiar with mailings sent to students, even if they originate in other departments, to be ready to respond to student and parent concerns, e.g., admissions information, orientation requirements, housing contracts, suspension letters, disciplinary action.
- review information in the popular press that can support parents who are trying to understand student perspectives on issues.
- Books like Letting Go: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding the College Years (Coburn & Treeger, 2003) and Don’t Tell Me What to Do, Just Send Money: The Essential Parenting Guide to the College Years (Johnson & Schelhas-Miller, 2000) inspire suggestions advisors can give parents.
- Interesting Web sites like www.collegeparents.org and www.mofchat.com foster advisor understanding of parental concerns.
- encourage parents to help students become responsible and problem-solve for themselves.
- enlist parental help in getting the student to communicate with instructors and advisors.
- as gently as possible, help the parent understand why higher education professionals may respond differently when students take action for themselves rather than relying on parental intervention.
- encourage parents to discuss concerns with their student. Involve the student in the discussion when possible. Advisors should avoid promising confidentiality to parents, as it can negate the advisor’s credibility with the student.
- document and secure responses to parents (copies of email responses, summaries of telephone or in-person conversations) to improve accountability and continuity. Advisor development programs should discuss the legal implications of keeping privately held documents vs. those accessible to other campus professionals or the student.
Those in charge of advisor development should prepare case studies for discussion; realistic examples drawn from the experiences of current advisors are most effective. Case studies should encourage discussion of appropriate responses to common parent questions. Also valuable are discussions regarding effective ways to provide meaningful information to parents in the form of newsletters, on-line resources, hotlines, parent organizations, or parent advisory boards. Advisors should become knowledgeable about resources available to parents and how information can be accessed. The NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources (www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/Advisors-Parents.htm ) provides articles and resources that can aid in advisor development in this area.
With proper attention, advisors can provide a great deal of helpful information to concerned parents and protect a student’s right to privacy. Most parents have years of experience helping their student, while instructors and advisors may have less than a semester with the student. Who better to join educators in retention efforts than parents?
Cynthia M. Fiedler
Academic Advisement Center
Missouri State University
NOTE: The ideas represented in this article were generated during the development of a presentation for the Missouri Academic Advising Association (MACADA) by the author and Joe Morris, SOAR Coordinator at Missouri State University.
Coburn, K. L., & Treeger, M. L. (2003). Letting go: A parents’ guide to understanding the college years (4th ed.). New York: Quill.
Jayson, S. (2006, June 29). The ‘millennials’ come of age. USA Today, p. 1D. Retrieved April 17, 2007 from http://www.usatoday.com/life/lifestyle/2006-06-28-generation-next_x.htm.
Johnson, H. E., & Schelhas-Miller, C. (2000). Don’t tell me what to do, just send money: The essential parenting guide to the college years. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.
NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources. (2007). Resources for Working with Students' Parents. Retrieved March 6, 2007 from http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/Advisors-Parents.htm
Tucker, P. (2006, May). Teaching the millennial generation. The Futurist, 7.
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2006). Digest of Education Statistics, 2005 (NCES 2006-030), Chapter 3.
Cite this article using APA style as: Fiedler, C. (2007, June). Preparing advisors to respond to parents. Academic Advising Today, 30(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]