Alyssa Kapaona and Mari Ono, University of Hawai`i at Mānoa
It is no secret that parental involvement in higher education has increased in recent years. College administrators working in the 21st century note the shift of working with parents from being a sporadic event to a daily occurrence (Levine & Dean, 2012; Shoup, Gonyea & Kuh, 2009). In the 2011 Student Affairs Survey, 90% of four-year institutions stated they have experienced an increase in parental involvement on campus since 2001 (Levine & Dean, 2012). Although much has been reported on the rise of parental involvement in higher education within the past fifteen years, little has been written on articulating the educational system’s role in this evolution.
Parental involvement in higher education simply refers to a parent(s) presence in their child’s academic career (Bradley-Geist & Olson-Buchanan, 2013). However, in the new millennium, this relationship became a point of contention between families and college administration. Much of the literature since the late 1990s has focused on identifying the characteristics of an overinvolved, intrusive parent (Shoup et al., 2009). Disparaging labels such as helicopter parent, snowplow parent, bulldozer parent, etc. (Levine & Dean, 2012; Peluchette, Kovanic, & Partridge, 2013) have helped to perpetuate the view that parents are an aberrant annoyance to educators and college administrators (Kohn, 2014). Despite these popular diatribes in the literature, more studies have found that students feel supported when their parents are involved in their college education (Levine & Dean, 2012; Lipka, 2007; Shoup et al., 2009; Smith, 2012) and that parents and families are an extremely important support network for current students (Shoup et al., 2009).
In this article, we will examine some key factors that have created the emergence of the helicopter parent and how post-secondary educators need to better strategize to improve and utilize their relationships with highly involved families.
The Causes of Increased Parental Involvement
Advisors should begin with developing a broader understanding of why and how family dynamics have changed within post-secondary institutions. While there are many reasons throughout the literature, there are some overlying systemic realities as to why this type of parent came into being: the soaring costs of college tuition, sociocultural considerations, and the parent/school relationships fostered through primary and secondary education (Fingerman et al., 2012; Levine & Dean, 2012; Shoup et al., 2009).
Tuition hikes have surpassed national inflation rates and household income, which puts pressure on parents of students to help with the financial burden that comes with a college education. With the 2008 recession, federal financial aid has been negatively impacted in the way of diminishing aid dollars and restrictive time limitations to complete degree (Zumeta & Hunt, 2012). The amount of parents taking out loans to help their children fund their college education has increased dramatically (Fingerman et al., 2012; Zumeta & Hunt, 2012), and this growing financial obligation creates a culture of consumerism on campus. Parents feel more inclined to get involved with various issues (housing, advising, instruction, etc.) as they are investing so much into their child’s education and want to be satisfied with their investment (Levine & Dean, 2012).
Millennials are also recognized for being the most ethnically diverse generation in American history (Howe & Strauss, 2007). When working with parents and families of students, advisors need to be cognizant of student’s diverse sociocultural backgrounds and how family involvement can be valued differently in determining educational choices. For example, interdependence versus independence is a common cultural variance that can significantly impact decision-making and educational preferences (McCarron & Inkelas, 2006; Perna, 2000). Likewise, a family’s socioeconomic status, educational background, and level of acculturation to Western norms also significantly shape student educational aspirations and degree choices (Kim & Schneider, 2005; Rowan-Kenyon, Bell, & Perna, 2008).
One of the more compelling and underlying reasons for high parental involvement is the institutional culture that urges more intensive participation of families with their children’s lives and activities (Howe & Strauss, 2007; Shoup et al, 2009). Parents are expected to be active in their child’s education from preschool through grades K-12 (Shoup et al., 2009) and can be pressured socially if they are not present at school functions and activities (Kohn, 2014). Educational literature is proliferated with strategies to increase parental involvement in K-12 settings (Hoover-Dempsey & Sandler, 1995; Plevyak, 2002; NSBA, 2011) as a means to achieve student success. However, this training ground for high participatory contributions of the family takes a dramatic shift once the student leaves secondary education. These same students are now labeled “adult learners” and expected to make independent decisions and actions regarding their educational choices (Evans & Forney, 2010). In fact, federal policies regarding a student’s privacy are now a barrier to parents who were once given all-access to their child’s educational experience (Shoup et al., 2009). Families are hardly prepared emotionally or cognitively for this brusque transition, and may continue to assume high participation with university administration, faculty, and staff (Levine & Dean, 2012). Likewise, few academies are institutionally prepared to re-coach families to shift into a new relational paradigm with the educational system and their student.
Strategies for Advisors
There are many methods an advisor can use to partner with parents and families of students (Menezes, 2005). Below is a list of some suggestions to get started.
To create positive change within the institution, it is often wise for advisors to reflect on their own personal practice. Advisors can continue to educate themselves regarding parent and family involvement in higher education. A booklet that has been helpful in practice is “Academic Advising in the First Year of College: A Guide for Families” (Gordon, Levison, & Kirkner, 2014). Another approach is to evaluate the service offered at one’s advising office. Is the office parent-friendly? Is the staff trained to partner with parents versus turning parents away? Is there a parent tab on the department website? Are there advising methods being utilized that include parents and families in the conversation? A little effort can go a long way. Even remembering to smile and be patient can make the difference in how an advisor perceives parental involvement and how the students and families of students feel supported.
A suggested way advisors could expand on this and do more at a campus level would be to partner with other offices on campus that work with parents and families of students. Talk to them about their methods in working with parents and families of students; what has been successful for them? Have they had any challenges? As an example, advisors at the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa (UHM) have partnered with the Housing Office and New Student Orientation (NSO) to reach out to parents and families of students to create a more inclusive culture. In the UHM NSO Week of Welcome program, advisors assist in normalizing the adjustment challenges for new students and their families. They address common concerns and provide more clarity to the role of academic advising in student success; educate and provide appropriate family strategies and resources to assist in student engagement and educational decision-making, etc.
To further partner with others, advisors could look at contacting comparable and/or best practice campuses (campuses who have successful parent and family programs, websites, outreach strategies) to see how they are working with parents and families of students. Advisors can also network within NACADA to connect with other advisors from different institutions on their work with parents and families of students. Through these conversations, advisors could learn what works for other campuses and reflect on what might be implemented on their home campus. Another idea is to start working with parents and families at the source. Advisors could begin to build or strengthen relationships with secondary education institutions and prepare parents and families earlier for the changes that occur when their child enters the academy.
Feeling support could arguably be the biggest benefit of parent involvement in higher education (Levine & Dean, 2012; Lipka, 2007; Shoup et al., 2009; Smith, 2012). Perception of support is a factor directly linked to higher graduation and retention rates among college students (Lipka, 2007; Shoup et al., 2009; Smith, 2012), which are significant indicators of an institution’s success (Lipka, 2007; Shoup et al., 2009). Studies have also shown that students whose parents are involved in their higher education report an overall increase in their level of engagement and self-reported gains (Bradley-Geist & Olson-Buchanan, 2013; Shoup et al., 2009), and students who have close ties with their family have increased support with their college careers and are ultimately more successful (Lipka, 2007). Given this information, academic advisors should partner with parents and families of students instead of putting up walls (Gordon, Levison, & Kirkner, 2014).
As student affairs practitioners, it is critical to have an expanded understanding regarding the emergence of highly participatory families in higher education. There are valid explanations for why parents are flummoxed by the change of culture once their student has entered college, explanations in part created by the educational system itself. It behooves all those committed to student success to find more inclusive and creative ways to leverage the strengths of family support in cooperative ways. (Levine & Dean, 2012; Peluchette et al., 2013; Shoup et al., 2009).
Mānoa Advising Center
University of Hawai`i at Mānoa
Director of Student Services
Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work
University of Hawai`i at Mānoa
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Cite this article using APA style as: Kapaona, A., & Ono, M. (2016, June). Re-envisioning parental involvement in higher education: Shifting the paradigm of the helicopter parent. Academic Advising Today, 39(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]