Christine M. Spindler, Cedar Crest College
Today’s parents are often characterized as obstacles in the development of student independence and autonomy. However, results from the recent National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) show that students whose parents intervened on their behalf experienced “greater gains on a host of desired college outcomes, and greater satisfaction with the college experience” (NSSE, 2007, p. 25). Despite this information, college personnel often struggle with parental involvement in their students’ academic affairs; many personnel believe that the path to development of student self-sufficiency and decision-making is blocked by well-meaning, hovering parents. Instead of viewing parental involvement as obtrusive and intrusive, personnel on college campuses should embrace the potential for building a partnership with parents. Academic advisors, in particular, are in the unique position to partner with parents in a relationship that will benefit those with a vested interest in students’ success: parents, students, and advisors.
Today’s academic advisors must have strong understandings of FERPA regulations if they are to ensure that student privacy is respected. However, even when students are unwilling to sign a release permitting the free flow of information between campus personnel and parents, communication between the academic advisor and parents can be beneficial. Though advisors might not be able to release specific student information, they can still listen to parental concerns. Many times parents can fill in information gaps. In one example, an advisor learned a great deal from a father who phoned and inquired if his student was attending class and meeting work-study obligations. Earlier in the week this student told her advisor that she was struggling with time management issues and balancing her workload. The student and advisor discussed strategies and did some problem-solving, but the student failed to share one crucial piece of information. When the student’s father mentioned that she was spending three or four nights per week visiting her boyfriend at a college located an hour away, the advisor saw the student’s time management issues in a new light. A follow-up student meeting provided the advisor with the chance to probe the issue. In response to some carefully-crafted questions, the student admitted that her recent social decisions were impeding her classroom performance and a new plan was crafted to help her make better choices. Had the advisor not listened to the father’s concerns, a vital piece of the puzzle would have remained undiscovered. Subsequently, the student implemented her new action plan resulting in better grades: at mid-term, every grade was a “B” or better.
Parents also can reinforce the messages advisors deliver to students. Parents of first-generation college students, in particular, are often unaware of the scope of services available to support students. (Note that The National Center for Education Statistics, as quoted by Swail, found that first generation college students account for about 40% of those enrolled at our institutions [Swail, p. B16]). When advisors share information about the process for securing a peer tutor, for example, parents are often relieved to hear that services are readily available. Then parents can provide clear, concrete advice when their students share information about academic challenges. Additionally, forging a relationship with the academic advisor prompts parents to suggest that a student meet with the advisor when difficult situations arise. Many students land on advisors’ doorsteps because “Mom said that maybe you could help me with this.”
For a partnership with parents to be successful, academic advisors must first establish boundaries. When a student has not signed an information release form, the academic advisor must be clear about what information can and cannot be shared. Advisors can use two specific techniques in conveying information. First, parents often just want to be heard. Wise advisors tell parents that while they cannot share certain details about their student, they are happy to listen to what the parents want to share. Parents are often relieved just to know that someone on campus is aware of their concerns, particularly when that person is an academic advisor who has direct student contact. Another method by which advisors can respect the boundary of student privacy while still engaging meaningfully with parents is providing general information about the student. For example, an advisor can tell a parent that she is not currently concerned about the student’s progress and has no plans to call the student in for crisis intervention. The parent is relieved, and the advisor has acted within the appropriate legal guidelines.
In addition to establishing boundaries, academic advisors must also establish trust. Many parents tell the advisor that their student is not aware that the parent is calling the advisor, and some parents request that the advisor avoid disclosing the parent call. Advisors should honor those requests to the best of their ability but make it clear to parents that if a student asks whether or not a parent has called, the advisor will not lie. Advisors should encourage parents to share concerns with their students directly in the spirit of open communication. To further promote trust in the relationship, it is important that academic advisors follow through with their promises. If advisors tell parents that they will meet with the student and follow up with the parents, they should do just that.
Establishment of a relationship with parents provides advisors with an opportunity to enrich the advising relationship. NSSE results illustrate the positive relationship between student satisfaction, engagement, and level of parental involvement. These results should encourage advisors to discuss ways to best cultivate the student-advisor-parent relationship without sacrificing the development of students’ personal accountability and independence. Academic advisors who promote partnerships with parents help students make strong connections to their institution.
Christine M. Spindler
Director, Academic Services
Cedar Crest College
Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Retrieved November 28, 2007, fromwww.ed.gov/print/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html
National Survey of Student Engagement (2007). Experiences that matter: Enhancing student learning and success. 2007 Annual Report. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research and Planning.
Swail, Watson S. (January 23, 2004). Legislation to improve graduation rates could have the opposite effect, in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 50 (20), p. B16. Retrieved November 28, 2007 from http://chronicle.com/prm/weekly/v50/i20/20b01601.htm with Chronicle log on.
Cite this article using APA style as: Spindler, C. (2008, March). You,me,and mom makes three: How academic advisors can capitalize on parental involvement. Academic Advising Today, 31(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]