After a winter spent stationary in the Washington, DC area, I had the occasion to venture out twice in the past week to meet with real families facing very real concerns about the process of preparing for, applying to and financing of college.
Mid-week, I traveled to Kalamazoo, Michigan, arguably the epicenter of College Parents of America. A college town nestled in rolling countryside about halfway between Detroit and Chicago, Kalamazoo seems as pleased to play the role of association leader as we are to have it as part of our group.
The reason Kalamazoo is so important to College Parents of America can be summed up in one word – Bronson. Bronson Health Care Group is one of Kalamazoo’s top two employers, with nearly 4,000 folks on staff and another few hundred working closely on companion health care services.
Several months ago, as my colleagues and I were examining different ways of growing our association, we came upon the notion of offering our membership as an employee benefit.
To me, this concept is one that fills an obvious niche for employers who are looking to provide a menu of benefits to employee parents, who are hurtling through various points in the lives. With day care (either on-site, subcontracted or subsidized) so well permeated into the culture of most large or mid-size organizations, and with elder care also gaining significant momentum, the provision of a subsidized College Parents of America membership is the perfect substantive meat for the employee benefit sandwich.
Or at least that is what I thought, as I developed the sales pitch. And, what was so rewarding is that my thoughts proved to be true. This past Wednesday in Kalamazoo nearly 100 Bronson parents went through College Boot Camp, as presented by College Parents of America. I tried to cover the gamut of issues because, as I suspected, the age range of kids from the parents who attended consisted of families of newborns all the way to parents of current college students.
While Bronson’s event was open only to employees, the second part of my end-of-winter travel odyssey consisted of an open-to-the-public session held at the New Orleans convention center.
Sponsored by the New Orleans Times-Picayune daily newspaper, and by the New Orleans chapter of the Financial Planning Association (FPA), the event was a win-win-win. It was a public relations and substance (always a lethal combination) victory for the paper and the FPA, who gained repeated and sustained exposure in the days leading up and during the event. It was also a positive for attendees who, for absolutely free, got to listen to range of speakers address topics as diverse as global trade and, closer to home, how to negotiate a better deal on a car. Finally, it was very appreciated exposure for College Parents of America, as not only did nearly 90 attendees show up at my session, but nearly a third of them stayed for after-hours advice from the podium, with a few continuing the conversation into the hallway.
My experiences this past week in both Kalamazoo and New Orleans reinforced for me that College Parents of America, with our three-pronged mix of advocacy, access to deals and discounts, and provision of timely and relevant information, is in the right place at the right time. A generation of baby-boomer parents is anxious to provide the very best for their children, up to and including the smartest and most effective ways of preparing for, applying to and financing of college. When given the chance to meet my fellow baby-boomers face-to-face, we exchange knowing glances and affirming anecdotes.
Obviously, I don’t know all of you, the thousands of diverse Americans, from Kalamazoo to New Orleans, and from Seattle to Miami, who make up our membership and who inspire me to work on your behalf. But I do want to make sure that I am representing your concerns, addressing your information needs and arranging for just the right mix of discounts. As always, I welcome your suggestions and solicit your feedback.
Here’s wishing you a spring time of active and productive support for your college-bound or in-college son or daughter.