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Alison K. Hoff, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne 

Alison Hoff.jpgIf asked why they chose their profession, most academic advisors would not respond 'I love working with parents!' or ' Parents are my passion! ' Nonetheless, parents are more involved in every decision made by today's traditional-aged students.

The Action Plan I crafted at the 2005 NACADA Summer Institute focused on the interactions between our academic advisors, IPFW students and their families. My charge was to find a way to include family in the advising conversation without taking attention away from student development and still work within FERPA guidelines. I applied the following process, adapted from Robert Sternberg's (1987) Successful Intelligence, to this issue.

1. Recognize the Problem

In recent years, IPFW academic advisors have experienced an increase in family involvement during student appointments. Keeling (2003) defines today's traditional-aged college freshmen as members of the Millennial Generation (born between 1982 and 2003). Howe and Strauss (2000) suggest that members of this generation share several traits, such as being cooperative, team players, sheltered, confident, and feeling special. As a whole, this group has been protected by parents and society.

Brownstein (2000) notes that Millennial Parents 'give new meaning to the word overprotective.' They demand information and seek to be more connected to their student's school life. Called 'helicopter parents' because they tend to 'hover' over their children, these parents are often unhappy if they are asked to separate from their student for academic advising and registration sessions during summer orientation. Many of these parents refuse to attend parent sessions in favor of 'hovering' over their children during academic advising.

2. Define the problem

Many parents want to be involved in academic advising and assist in student decision making, even though federal law (FERPA) prohibits sharing of most student academic information without prior student approval. Academic advisors are faced with a dilemma: how to comply with the law without denying students support from their families. The answer lies in our willingness to create an environment that helps students realize their autonomy to develop educational plans consistent with their personal goals while still addressing the needs of their parents. Good communication is the key.

3. Formulate a strategy

To address the issue, I created an on-line academic advising guide for parents and families. This guide gives the details of the academic advising process and provides discussion questions parents and families can ask their student prior to orientation. The guide is available as a discussion tool during the parent orientation sessions. An on-line comment/questions section is also available. Hard copy business-sized cards with the Web site information are provided for front desk and advisor use.

4. How to 'sell' the solution

Who needs to have 'buy in' to get the project such as this one moving? The campus advising council? The orientation office? Other possibilities include Admissions, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, the academic advising staff, the parent program director, and parent orientation leaders.

5. Allocate Resources

Probably the scarcest resource involved in this project is time. Surprisingly, crafting the guide did not take nearly as much time as expected. The development of the project started in early August and was ready for use the next June. Actual funding for a guide can be minimal if it exists solely on-line and is linked from other campus office Web sites (see step 4 above). While Internet-only information may deter some parents and family members from accessing the guide, many campuses have moved to all, or most, institution communication delivered electronically. To help connect parents to the guide, we created business card-sized Web link cards. These cards are handy referral tools for parents and families who come to the advising front desk with questions that cannot be answered due to FERPA.

Additional resources needed include:

  • monies either to print the guide or Web post it as a PDF with the business-sized Web link cards
  • access to the university Web site
  • other campus's on-line academic advising/parent guides (available online through the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources )
    the NACADA Family Guide to Academic Advising . At $3 this is a wonderful resource to help with format and content issues.

6. Evaluate the result.

How is success measured? This depends on the goal. Some good options are: parent orientation session evaluations, an on-line comment and question section linked to the on-line guide, the number of hits on the guide Web site. Keep the goal attainable (maybe 10-20% of possible connections) for the first year and plan to revise the goal each year as content and marketing are revised.

What content should be included?

When considering what should be included or excluded from the guide, seasoned advisors should trust their instincts and refer to examples. Advisors know typical questions asked by new traditional freshmen and their families. If this is a campus-wide guide, focus on families of ALL students, not just families of students assigned to your department for advising. Give credit in your reference section. Typically an institutional relations editor can assist with this. Also recognize that, based on the time line, the guide could be used as a marketing piece for potential students and their families. Inclusion of a welcome letter from the Chancellor or President is a nice addition. Stay connected with your University Relations office for other ideas and guidelines.

What content should be left out?

It is important to limit the scope of the parent/family advising guide in order to do justice to the topics. As an example, transfer student information and returning adult information can be added at a later date. Choose to focus on academic advising topics rather than attempting to represent the total college experience. Steer clear of undefined university jargon that can inhibit the guide's usefulness for parents and families of first generation students. Specific dates and times should not be included; this helps avoid constant updating. As an example, the last day to drop a course should not be listed; instead the reader should be linked to the Registrar's Web site that is updated on regular bases.

Designing the Final Product

The best design ideas may come from the university relations and publications offices and from examples of other parent guides listed in the NACADA Clearinghouse.

Future of the Guide

An academic advising guide for parents and families of new students can be a starting point for campus information. Depending on the campus needs, potential additions could be endless. As an example, the addition of an interactive Web link with commentary by students, parents/families, and academic advisors could be developed. If the guide is to be printed rather than published on-line, additional funding will need to be secured.


The IPFW parent/family handbook is an example of one creative advising idea that was developed at a NACADA Summer Institute. Access the IPFW parent handbook here.

Alison K. Hoff
Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW)
[email protected]


Bigger, J.J. (2005). Improving the Odds for Freshman Success. Retrieved November 16, 2006 from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/First-Year.htm

Brownstein, A. (2000, October 13). The next generation? The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Howe, N., & Strauss, W. (2000). Millennials Rising: The next great generation. New York: Vintage Books.

Keeling, S. (2003). Advising the millennial generation. NACADA Journal, 23 (1&2), 30-36.

Jones, L. P., & Purvis, L. L. F. (2002, February). The freshman advocate: The new advising tool for retention. Session presented at the NACADA Region 4 Conference, Callaway Gardens, GA.

Strauss, W., & Howe, N. (1991). Generations: The history of America 's future, 1584 to 2069. New York: Quill/William/Morrow.

Sternberg, R. J. (1997). Successful intelligence: how practical and creative intelligence determine success in life. New York: Penguin Putnam.

Cite this article using APA style as: Hoff, A. (2006, December). Creating an academic advising guide for families of new students. Academic Advising Today, 29(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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