student success

Want to increase student retention? Talk to the parents

Shannon Cook

Senior Director of Retention Solutions

November 8, 2011

College students are often heavily influenced by the feelings of their parents. Overall parent satisfaction can be a determining factor in whether a student chooses to persist at a particular college or university.
Parents can play a big role in a student's decision to persist.

In my five years at a small private, liberal arts college, I had many students come into my office ready to transfer just weeks or even days after classes had started. I would ask questions such as, “Are you getting involved on campus? Are you meeting new people?  Do you like the content of your classes? How are your professors, have you introduced yourself to them yet? Have you met with your advisor/mentor/success coach?” The answers to these questions were often yes.

But ultimately the response to the next question would determine if the student was going to persist or pack up and head home: “Do your parents agree with your decision to transfer?”

If the answer was “yes,” then the student was gone tomorrow. If the answer was “no,” I still had a shot at keeping them on board.

That experience illustrates the enormous role that parents play in student retention. They are paying a good amount of money to send their child to college and they want that experience to be nothing short of perfect. During the recruitment process, parents are convinced that this is the right place for their child. However, as soon as the student hits a bump in the road and calls home in a panic, parents may second-guess the decision they were so certain about just a short time before.

So how do you influence that conversation between parents and a student considering leaving your campus? What can you communicate to parents that would reassure them that their child should remain at your campus? Because if you send parents information that is not important to them, your communications will quickly end up in the trash or deleted from their e-mail.

The answer is to assess parents the way you would your students.

We recently published the second annual National Parent Satisfaction and Priorities Report, which is based on responses from our Parent Satisfaction Inventory—a survey that assesses the satisfaction and priorities of parents.  I encourage you to look at the report because it not only offers insight into the issues parents of current students find important, it provides a benchmark for comparing your campus to other like institutions.

More importantly, the report shows the value of assessing parents so you can communicate with them more effectively and turn them into agents for student retention. For example, if you know that safety/security is a priority or that parents are concerned about the academic advising their students are receiving, you can tailor your communications to  highlight those specific campus services. The better informed parents are about issues that are important to them, the more you will continue to assure them that they (and their child) made the right decision to enroll at your institution. So next time their child calls home wanting to leave, mom and dad can become agents of retention for your campus, encouraging their child that it may be tough right now, but they made the right decision to enroll and things will get better. That is far more powerful than any assurances I could give students when they came to my office.

While this report is a great starting point to determine parent perceptions, data from parents of your own students will always be the most valuable. With the holiday break approaching and many students getting ready to spend a few weeks at home, I encourage you to consider parental assessment. E-mail me or leave a comment about any questions you have or to share any stories of parental influence on retention.

About the Author

As senior director of retention solutions, Shannon Cook assists colleges and universities with using our assessment tools, market research, and management consulting to improve student persistence and degree completion rates. She is experienced in addressing...

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