Parent Engagement in the College Planning Process

Raquel BermejoAssociate Vice President, Market Research and PlanningJanuary 21, 2021

Co-written by Dave Becker, CEO of CampusESP.

In today’s higher education environment, parent engagement and college enrollment go hand-in-hand. In 2020, 86 percent of high school seniors surveyed said their parents were involved in their college planning process (statistic taken from our 2020 Perceptions of Financial Aid Report). In fact, parent involvement can be extremely influential when it comes to enrollment, retention, and promoting student success.

Parent Engagement in the College Planning Process
More than 3 out of 4 parents say they are “very involved” in the college planning process.

With the current COVID crisis, parents’ influence on college planning may continue to increase as families spend more time together and students interact less frequently with other influencers (high school counselors, teachers, and friends).There is no doubt that COVID-19 has changed parents’ perspectives, according to findings from our research summary, College Planning and the Perceptions of Parents After COVID-19:

  • Three-fourths of parents said the pandemic had personally or financially impacted them.
  • Just over one-third of senior parents (34 percent) responded that the situation impacted their student’s college decision.
  • Parents expressed greater levels of concern for their ability to pay for college, the health of their children, a college’s ability to handle emergency situations, and safety generally.
  • Over half of parents (55 percent) were more likely to want their children to enroll closer to home, with over one-third (37 percent) more likely to want their children to live at home and commute.

Communicate directly with parents.

In a 2019 survey, slightly more than half (54 percent) of parents reported that they had received communications from colleges directed specifically to them.This is a missed opportunity.If you do not have a multi-channel parent communication flow, make plans to develop one, but don’t wait until you have a fully formed plan to start reaching out.Start now.

Most institutions are offering virtual events for students, but many are not inviting parents to participate in those events.Nearly half (47 percent) of junior parents and 60 percent of senior parents in a recent survey said they did not attend virtual events because they were not invited by the institution (College Planning and the Perceptions of Parents After COVID-19).Parents and especially their teenage children want clarity about who is welcome to participate and how.Be specific in your invitation materials and use inclusive language during the events to make parents feel welcome and to lessen students’ anxiety that their parents are interlopers.

Understanding how to communicate with parents, when to do so, and what to communicate are critical pieces of any institution’s enrollment and marketing communication plan. That’s why RNL has partnered with CampusESP, the premier parent and family engagement company in higher education, to use our combined resources to optimize your parent engagement strategy and turn parents into ambassadors for enrollment and student success.

In working with parent engagement and college enrollment, we have seen tremendous benefits when colleges and universities harness the influence of parents from college search through graduation. Here are three key ways we help campuses connect with parents so they have the information and communications they need to help their students enroll.

Differentiate your marketing efforts with parents

It’s critical to send parents the information they want when they want it. The CampusESP platform allows colleges and universities to send targeted emails and newsletters so parents receive that information at key decision points (with an incredible open rate of 63 percent for prospective parent emails, newsletters, and alerts). Parents receive content on:

  • Saving money—cost of college, scholarships, FAFSA, understanding loan debt
  • Getting in — helping their student, safety, insider tips
  • Tools—checklists, campus visit questions to ask, cost calculators
  • Family activities—planning for college, campus visits, budgeting

Another successful strategy we use is curating content from your website and combining it with expert advice from trusted sources, such as NBC’s Parent Toolkit, to provide parents with a personalized experience that goes beyond Facebook, College Confidential, or basic email.

Over 500,000 parents use the CampusESP Parent Portal, and 72 percent say that CampusESP helps them better advise and support their students.

“Nudge the nudgers” to increase visits, applications, and deposits

It’s not only important to keep parents informed. It’s critical to “nudge the nudger” by giving parents actions to take. Regular emails generated by CampusESP contain qualification events, such as signing up for the portal, completing a survey, or registering for an event. The qualification nudges are personalized to the parent based on the stage of their student in your enrollment pipeline:

  • Inquiry—focus on sign-up for campus visit
  • Application—focus on completing student application
  • Admit—focus on depositing and enrolling

By strategically involving parents in your admission process, you are able to directly influence prospective students.

Improve parent engagement to improve student yield

With our campus clients, we link parent engagement to their student data through a “Parent Promoter Score.” By tracking which parents are most engaged, you can understand which students are most likely to enroll at your institution:

High parent engagement High likelihood of student enrollment

Low parent engagement Low likelihood of student enrollment

Strategically engaging parents and tracking their involvement provides an additional measure to understand your outreach effectiveness trends over time. CampusESP provides data on your most engaged families as well as the content that is most effective at reaching families, so that your communication strategies can evolve year after year.

Talk with us about increasing parent engagement in the college planning process

Every school says that “parents are partners,” but true parent engagement requires active, personalized, and measurable actions. That’s why RNL and CampusESP, provide the most complete end-to-end parent engagement process available in higher education.

Ask for a free consultation with RNL and CampusESP and see how you can build your campus brand with the most crucial influencers in the enrollment process: the parents of the students you are recruiting.

About the Author

Dr. Raquel Bermejo

Dr. Raquel Bermejo analyzes existing search, inquiry, and conversion data in addition to conducting original research with college-seeking students and parents to understand trends and student behaviors. Her research informs and enhances the services the...

Read more about Raquel's experience and expertise

Reach Raquel by e-mail at Raquel.Bermejo@RuffaloNL.com.

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