Mehvash Ali, American University of Sharjah
Parents of college students today are more involved than ever before. Ninety-three percent of student affairs professionals reported an increase in interactions with parents over the previous 5 years in a 2006 study (Merriman, 2007). Higher education has seen a significant increase in the number of programs and initiatives to educate and involve parents (Johnson, 2004; Savage & Petree, 2009) including orientations, councils and advocacy groups, hotlines and listservs, parent weekends and other social events, and handbooks, newsletters, and liaison offices (Watson, 2007).
Kennedy (2009) explains this trend, sharing that the family dynamic now is more child-centered. As tuition costs increase at a higher rate than inflation (98.1% increase in tuition costs at 4-yr institutions from 1995–2004), parents and students are increasingly viewing college as a service rather than an opportunity. Daniel and Scott (2001) note that parents see themselves as consumers of higher education. Since higher education is very expensive, parents feel they have a right to express their opinions as consumers. Kennedy (2009) notes that an average college student communicates with their parents about 1.5 times per day and that more than half the time, this contact is initiated by the student. Parents typically follow the student’s social media and students more frequently reach out to parents for help with social and academic issues (rather than going to friends). Kennedy notes that as institutions become more responsive to parents, it reinforces the idea that parents voicing concerns is an effective tool for making change happen.
An increase in parental involvement is not without benefits. NSSE data correlates parental involvement with greater student engagement, personal competence, social development, and academic engagement (Shoup, Gonyea, & Kuh, 2009). Grasgreen (2012) also links parental involvement to increased student autonomy and future planning. Similarly, other research has also identified family support as a significant positive contributor to academic performance (Canavan & Dolan, 2000; Whittaker & Garbarino, 1983). Cheng, Ickes, and Verhofstadt (2012) differentiated between economic and social familial support as related to academic performance and found that the level of perceived social support from families had a significant positive impact on GPA.
Increase in Parental Involvement: Parent Characteristics
The increase in parental involvement in higher education has also been spurred by changing characteristics of students and parents reflected by generational changes (Johnson, 2004; Keppler, Mullendore, & Carey, 2005; Sweeten & Davis, 2004). Baby Boomer parents of today’s college students were typically born between 1946 and 1964. They reshaped higher education by challenging in loco parentis and wanting to be regarded as independent adults. They are highly educated, demanding, savvy, and affluent. In addition, they have fewer children, wait longer before having children, and have more resources available for their children. Menezes (2005) notes that members of Generation X were born between 1961 and 1981. They experienced single parent homes or homes with both parents working. Generation X is focused on individual freedoms and self-advancement. As parent characteristics change, so do their parenting styles. Carney-Hall (2008) notes that parents of students today have been engaging in protective parenting since before birth and serve not just as parents but also as advocates for their students.
Increase in Parental Involvement: Student Characteristics
It is important to also consider the change in student characteristics. As noted by Keppler, Mullendore, and Carey (2005) and Howe and Strauss (2000), Millennial students were born between 1982 and 2000. They are considered special due to the intellectual expectations placed on them. They are typically confident, team oriented, achieving, and pressured individuals. They view parents as advocates and look to them for assistance in getting the services they want. College students are also more diverse in terms of race/ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, physical abilities, etc. Many of the students in colleges today are first generation students and students from single parent families and mixed families. More students with mental health issues are attending college now with improvements in support services available. Students are also more socially plugged in than ever before.
Increase in Parental Involvement: Cultural Factors
Culture is another important factor in exploring the role of parental influence on college students. Research on parental influence on Asian students encourages parental involvement as a positive factor for academic performance. Alnabhan, Al-Zegoul, and Harwell (2001) looked at factors related to the academic performance of students in a Jordanian university and found that perceived family support has a significant positive relationship with GPA. Peng and Wright (1994) explored the factors impacting the academic achievement of Asian American students and found that home environment is important for academic achievement. They assert that Asian parents tend to be more supportive of learning and provide students with not only more learning opportunities but also more pressure to achieve. This pressure to perform well in academics can certainly have negative impacts. Yoon and Lau (2008) looked at parental contributions to maladaptive perfectionism among Asian American students and found that while perceptions of strong parental expectations and criticism was linked to depression, parents can serve as a protective factor from the distress. Their research found that parental support buffered against the negative aspects of high expectations as it relates to depressive symptoms and that Asian American students who perceive demands from parents as a function of parental care and investment in their education are not vulnerable to the distress associated with maladaptive perfectionism. Furthermore, they advocate for the mobilization of parental support for academic achievement concerns. In 2012, Brannan did a study comparing college students in US, Iran, and Jordan on perceived social support on subject well-being and found that high levels of perceived support from family predicted well-being in all 3 countries.
These culturally based differences are evident at American University of Sharjah (AUS). AUS is an American curriculum university in United Arab Emirates. It is accredited by regional and international accrediting bodies. Although AUS is an American institution, it is not bound by FERPA laws. However AUS does have to meet the international best practice standards for accreditation purposes for disclosure of student information. At AUS, approximately 60% of the faculty are from the US, Canada, or the UK. The student population is predominantly Asian (middle-eastern and south Asian). This difference between faculty and students creates an interesting dynamic in terms of expectations for parental involvement. Though most of the faculty at AUS have a very western perspective of parental involvement, for the Asian students and their families, the university is serving not just them, but the family as well. Students and families expect full transparency of student performance and show high level of involvements with an in loco parentis approach. Requested information includes not just grades but also class attendance, course selection, adherence to conduct policies, quality of interactions with faculty and peers, and involvement in athletics, support services, and organizations. This familial expectation of access to educational information about the student extends to older siblings/cousins and other relatives.
Furthermore, AUS has several students from the Middle East who are sponsored by government or private agencies that fully or partially pay for their education and provide jobs after graduation. The sponsored students are expected to maintain certain standards of performance. Therefore they routinely request performance updates.
These factors create challenges in how the university handles disclosure of student information. The policy at AUS (as noted in the undergraduate catalog) is that the university reserves the right to disclose students’ records to the parent, immediate guardian of the student, and to the private or public authority sponsoring the student. Students can request non-disclosure, within the extent of UAE laws. However, each department has policies regarding how this disclosure is handled.
In practice, parents and students are informed at AUS orientation of the level of access to student information parents can expect. Parents are urged to request information directly from the students and are informed of the types of information pertaining to grades that the student can access online to share with the family. University officials stress the value of open communication between parents and students and encourage students to provide parents with accurate information about their progress. For the sponsored students, any requests for disclosure of performance go through the sponsorship liaison at the university. The sponsored students are aware of the disclosure they can expect and the sponsorship liaison provides sponsors with required information regarding student progress. The university limits contact between faculty and parents. Requests for student progress within specific courses go through the student’s associate dean. The associate dean communicates with the parents providing the minimal information with student knowledge.
If a student gets on academic probation, parents are involved as part of the advising efforts to mobilize all support systems and to work with the family to ensure timely progression towards graduation, in line with the research noted above. Parents are encouraged to attend at least one advising session along with the student so that advisors, students, and parents can identify multiple means of supporting the student at this critical stage. The advisors observe that parental involvement for probation students increases extrinsic motivation of students, galvanizes family supports for the student, and pushes students to utilize the support services available at the university.
Academic Support Center
American University of Sharjah
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Cite this article using APA style as: Ali, M. (2017, September). Parental involvement in higher education: A perspective from the United Arab Emirates. Academic Advising Today, 40(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]