Being the Parent of a COVID-19 (School) Survivor

Eric GrovesSenior Vice President, Campus PartnershipsMarch 11, 2021
My daughter and I looking at her first acceptance letter!

A lot is made of the period in life where we enrollment professionals sit on the opposite side of the desk as our daughters and sons go through the college search process. How I wish there was a way to make this mandatory training for admissions people, because I now have exponentially more empathy for the parent that called me to say, “what place am I on the waitlist” (there is usually no rank to the waitlist), or “tell me about campus safety”, or “I realize the FAFSA says my Expected Family Contribution is (fill in the blank), but that is crazy!” I feel the pain!

For context, I have two daughters, one a sophomore at a private university in Seattle, the other a senior in high school. In my youngest daughter’s case, I am struck by how COVID has made liars out of people like me. For years at college fairs, parent nights, preview events, counselor tours, etc., I made the case that students should have a good mixture of schools to apply to, but the final list should be narrowed down to four to five schools. At the start of October 2020, I thought we had it narrowed down to three schools (pretty good, right?). But almost overnight she changed and applied to eight! This is a trend that the good people at The Common App have been observing and reporting as the average number of applications per student has risen to almost six applications for fall 2021 (a 9 percent increase over 2020).

So as the father of a student who has applied to eight institutions (three private, five public), I thought I’d give some insight into the market right now.

The “helpers” are Zoomed out!

It comes as no surprise to me, given our experiences, that first-generation college students are tracking behind in the college search process in many ways. One of the most notable is the drop in FAFSA volume, which is a good proxy for access and was down 8.9 percent nationally through February 26. While my daughter is not a first-generation student, I’ll tell you that asking for a recommendation was a huge hurdle. My daughter came to me in late September and said, “My counselor can’t meet with me for two weeks and she said to forget asking for recommendations from my teachers.” Of course we navigated that issue, but how many wouldn’t have?

If you ever wanted an anecdote to show the importance of teachers, counselors, coaches, and mentors in helping students to navigate the college access process, this is it. Nobody had the capacity or ability this past year to grab students in the hallway and say, “You are too smart not to go to college, let’s help you fill out the FAFSA.” It just couldn’t happen. This has left a gap for all students who could have been helped by a high school mentor…and leads to my second point.

Parents are influential

Because parents are so involved, we made their engagement a key part of our search solution.

RNL’s research shows clearly that parents have influence in the college search process. When I went to college, I chose a college I knew my parents didn’t want me to attend (sorry Mom! And thanks for filling out my application for me anyways!). But students today actually do listen to their parents’ advice!

Out of the eight schools my daughter applied to, only two have reached out to me as a parent. Nationally, only 54 percent of parents say that they have received a communication addressed directly to them. It should be little surprise that over 70 percent of parents disagree that a college education is worth the cost (time, money, and effort). What they are really saying is that colleges have not effectively made the case that they are worth their investment.

In my experience meeting directly with families, parents always want to know the return on their investment. Yet it is clear that colleges just haven’t done the vital work of communicating their value to prospective parents—even though parents are more accessible than ever! They could be communicated with effectively to reverse these perceptions. Did you know that parents have a 40 percent higher email open rate that their students? Parents can be your advocates, if you use them!

This is one reason why RNL Student Search and Engagement features parent engagement as a main component. When parents engage on this platform, their students are 3 times more likely to apply and enroll! This has been huge news, especially with parents who want more information than ever before about campus safety protocols and campus news.

So if the advocates in the schools aren’t able to help, will you use the advocates in the home? See how we have added in parent engagement to our search solution. Or contact us and we’ll set up a time to talk about your search strategies and how you can make sure parents like me are advocating for schools like yours with our children.

RNL Student Search and Engagement

About the Author

Dr. Eric Groves joined the enrollment management team in 2014, bringing with him 15 years of higher education experience, as a director of undergraduate admissions for 12 years and as a director of development for...

Read more about Eric's experience and expertise

Reach Eric by e-mail at Eric.Groves@RuffaloNL.com.

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