Book by Katherine Lynk Wartman & Marjorie Savage
Review by Johnathan Franklin
Director for Clinical Education
Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences

The ASHE Higher Education Report Series monograph Parental Involvement in Higher Education: Understanding the Relationship Among Students, Parents, and the Institution was written for practitioners in the field of higher education including administrators, faculty, and staff. Wartman and Savage educate readers in regards to the relatively recent phenomenon of increased parental involvement in higher education. Although this monograph is primarily a review of the literature on parental involvement in higher education, it also includes discussion of implications and provides recommendations from the authors. 

The authors use a wide variety of sources as a foundation for a very thorough discussion of this topic as well as to craft recommendations. They use data from both qualitative and quantitative studies which allows them to explain this phenomenon more comprehensively and answer the question ‘what is happening?’ as well ‘why is this phenomenon occurring?”

Wartman and Savage use findings from a variety of sources to construct a convincing explanation of the reasons behind such a significant increase in parental involvement within higher education. They do not identify any individual explanation but instead provide a variety of explanations that are supported by evidence. They argue that too much time has been spent on studying this phenomenon in the context of generational differences; practitioners and researchers should consider all relevant variables when studying and adapting to this trend. They do not deny that generational differences account for some of the increased involvement by parents but stress that a comprehensive understanding of this topic involves increased attention to other areas such as the increasing costs of college, technology, general changes in parenting, and demographics. The authors discuss each of these areas and make a valid case that each has contributed to the shift to increasing parental involvement.

One of the main arguments throughout the book is that parental involvement should not be seen in a negative light. It falls to colleges and universities to find positive ways that parents can be involved and invested in the institutions. According to the authors, parents should be seen as partners and a resource as opposed to an annoyance; colleges and universities would be better served by finding ways to capitalize on parental involvement as opposed to trying to deter it. Most within higher education have heard the term “helicopter parent.” This term often evokes a negative image of a parent who is overly involved in a child’s education. This parent tries to act on the student’s behalf, attempts to solve all of the student’s problems for them, and occasionally even becomes involved in areas such as grade appeals and grade negotiation with professors. The authors assert that this type of extreme parental behavior is not the norm and that higher education administrators, faculty, and staff should be cautious about stereotyping and broadly categorizing parents because each student/parent and parent/institution relationship is different.

Early in the book authors discuss separation-individuation and attachment theory. This conversation resurfaces throughout the book and effectively frames the opposing views on this topic. Historically, student development programs have taught that colleges and universities are places where students separate from their dependent roles and begin to identify as individuals. Most collegiate faculty and administrators were either taught separation-individuation in their graduate programs or have adopted this notion because of their higher education experiences. The authors acknowledge and support more recent thoughts within student development that are based on attachment theory. They explain that separation-individuation and attachment theory are not opposite ends of a spectrum and that student/parent attachment may actually be healthy and can provide a solid foundation for students’ separation-individuation. They provide evidence that suggests that students who experience significant parental involvement have better chances of being academically successful and socially successful in their higher education endeavors.

This book is very informative but there is one area that appears to be missing in Wartman and Savage’s discussion. The authors acknowledge that many college and university faculty, staff, and administrators believe that parental involvement has gone too far but there is little or no discussion of the negative effects the “helicopter parent” can have on an institution. There are obviously reasons that individuals within the higher education community have negative feelings about “helicopter parents” but it would have been beneficial if the authors would have addressed this area. 

Readers will be able to identify a variety of ways this book may influence everyday practice. They may question their previous assumptions about parental involvement in higher education and may even consider the possibility that parental involvement may facilitate healthy separation and individualism within students. There are obviously areas where parents should not be involved, e.g., approaching professors about their son’s or daughter’s grades, but readers will learn that colleges and universities must take a proactive approach to this situation by outlining and communicating exactly where the boundaries of healthy parental involvement end.

It appears that parental involvement in higher education will continue to be prevalent and, if anything, will only increase. Colleges and universities cannot ignore this phenomenon or expect it to go away. Instead they must address this situation by determining positive ways parents can be involved in their children’s educational experiences. Even though generational differences have received the most attention, there are a multitude of other reasons for this change. It is important that college and university personnel examine these areas and determine ways in which we can structure our campuses so they are the most beneficial to our students.

Parental involvement in higher education: Understanding the relationship among students, parents, and the institution, (2008), Book by Katherine Lynk Wartman & Marjorie Savage. Review by Johnathan Franklin. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 152 pp. $29.00 (paperback).  ISBN 978-0470385296
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