At College Parents of America, one of our goals is to encourage colleges and universities to develop strong programs in support of the current parents at their institutions. Many of you have asked me over the past 14 months what the hallmarks are of such a program. Following is my take on the “Top Ten” attributes of a supportive parent program:

1. A PARENT/FAMILY WEBSITE (OR CLEARLY MARKED SECTION ON THE HOME PAGE OF A SCHOOL’S SITE)
An informative and attractive Web site attracts parents to a school, and helps to keep them feeling good about their son or daughter’s attendance. Important dates and resources for parents are key components. Many schools find that a section with frequently asked questions is also well-received by parents. Some smart institutions utilize the site for polling parents on hot topics or student concerns.

2. A DEFINED MISSION AND GOALS FOR THE PARENT PROGRAM
Surveys can also help in defining a parent program’s mission, but it is important that any parent program support the overall mission of the school. Programs with clearly stated missions and outlined goals are able to better explain the purpose and value of the program to both parents and senior school administrators. Even if a program has existed for several years, taking time to reconsider goals may offer a school room for enhancement of services.

3. INFO ON WHOM TO CALL IN THE EVENT OF EMERGENCY OR CRISIS
Whether this information is available online and/or in printed materials, it is essential information for parents. Not only does it provide peace of mind, it also reduces frantic searching when a crisis does arise. In addition to contact info, clear communication on crisis procedures is very important.

4. TOLL-FREE HOTLINE/E-MAIL ADDRESS SPECIFICALLY FOR PARENT CONTACT
This lifeline for parents is critical to a successful program. Parents should always have the opportunity to contact a school directly and to have their query answered. It is a reality with baby-boomer parents that they are often concerned about issues that could affect their child. A hotline or always-on e-mail can improve relations with parents and offer solutions to concerns.

5. REGULAR COMMUNICATIONS WITH PARENTS VIA NEWSLETTERS (SNAIL MAIL AND/OR E-MAIL)
Regardless of how a school chooses to communicate with parents, sending the message is essential because parents value the information provided by their son or daughter’s college. By offering clear, frequent and detailed information, via print or e-mail newsletters, schools present parents an appreciated resource.

6. CREATE AWARDS THAT HONOR AND RECOGNIZE FAMILY INVOLVEMENT IN COLLEGE LIFE
By demonstrating appreciation of involved parents, a school will not only increase the level of parent participation from those families, it will also likely bring in some fresh faces who would like to be recognized themselves down the road.

7. ANNUAL (OR MORE OFTEN) EVENTS AND/OR ACTIVITIES FOR PARENTS/FAMILIES
From summer orientations for incoming parents to family weekends to spring flings, smart schools involve parents and families in all aspects of college life. Schools should not miss out on opportunities to bring parents back to campus to recognize student achievement. Events centered on parents indicate how valuable parents are to an institution.

8. UTILIZING ON- AND OFF-CAMPUS RESOURCES
Just as we at College Parents of America are putting together a national network of partner businesses to better serve our members, schools should work with local businesses to make parents’ visits to the campus as easy as possible. Schools should consider starting a parent discount program to help with some of the “on-the-ground” spending that takes place when Mom and Dad are in town. Some institutions have even made this a fundraiser for their parent program.

9. FORM A PARENT ADVISORY COMMITTEE OR PARENT COUNCIL
Smart schools involve parents in planning and executing events by creating an advisory committee or council, the latter of which tends to have a more activist approach, but which still must operate within groundrules set by the college or university. While there are a number of ways to construct the committee or council, it is important that it be customized to meet a school’s mission and needs.

10. BECOME AN INSTITUTIONAL MEMBER OF COLLEGE PARENTS OF AMERICA!
OK, of course this recommendation is a bit self-serving, but those schools which become part of our member rolls do send parents an important signal – that they are a parent-friendly institution. These schools can “pass-through” membership to parents in either a subsidized or intermediated fashion, resulting in either no cost or half-priced membership for parents.

I hope this information is helpful to the future and current college parents in our organization. If your young adult is currently attending an institution of higher education, you should consider yourself fortunate if the school that he or she attends meets all or most of the attributes that I have cited.

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