College Guidance Counselors Send Mixed Messages on Parental Involvement in the College Selection Process

There were no protesters, no police blockades and no talking heads on television, but last week in Milwaukee there was a national convention.As Boston in July was to the Democrats, and as New York in late August and early September was to the Republicans, Milwaukee last weekend was to guidance counselors.

As Boston in July was to the Democrats, and as New York in late August and early September was to the Republicans, Milwaukee in 2004 was to guidance counselors.

Attracted to this tidy Midwestern city on the lake by the annual meeting of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), about 4,000 counselors came en masse from both the high school and college sides of the table. I attended too, on behalf of College Parents of America, and I would like to share some of my observations, particularly as they relate to how high school guidance counselors and college admissions officers view the appropriate role of parents in the college selection process.

Frankly, the view of attendees toward parents was all over the map. Through interaction with certain counselors, and through attendance at a particular session, entitled “How to Deal with Ambitious Parents,” I actually felt like I might begin to hear a chant: “One, two, three, four, I declare a parent war.”

Yet for every counselor who seemed wary and/or put upon by those they perceive to be overly ambitious parents, there was always the countervailing view, from those who believe that it is absolutely essential for parents to be partners in post-secondary planning and preparation for today’s young people.

And then, of course, there was the inevitable panel on how baby-boomer parents interact with our millennial children, making the point that, since many of us are having fewer children, and waiting until later in life to have them, that we see them as our prized possessions, just as deserving of a place in a selective school as they are of a slot on the travel soccer team.

Meanwhile, amidst all of these pop sociological musings at panel sessions, there was also a real trade show going on, with various vendors of all stripes trying to convince high school guidance counselors and college admissions officers that if only they had this piece of magic software, or new way of branding themselves, then they would find the perfect class of wonderful students, supported by parents who could all pay the full freight of college costs.

So there I was, munching an occasional bratwurst and quaffing an occasional beer, but most importantly trying to make sense of it all, and to communicate, on behalf of our organization, the importance, indeed the necessity, of schools working with parents as their children move from the middle school years all the way to and through college.

I came away from NACAC, more convinced than ever, that there is a critical role for College Parents of America to play. The more we build our membership, the greater impact we can have on facilitating appropriate levels of parent involvement as their children move from the 7th grade through college.

Many high school guidance counselors had not yet heard of College Parents of America, but they welcomed our involvement in partnering with them to serve our children. These counselors believed in our mission of advocating on behalf of, providing timely information to and creating access to deals and discounts for current and future college students.

Most of the college admissions officers were agreeable too. My oft-repeated comment to these college officials – that parents are an important partner with the student in the college “co-purchase” decision – seemed to resonate, and they definitely agreed that the successful retention of students had to have an effective parent-communication component.

Having said the above, we still have a long way to go in convincing high schools and higher education institutions that College Parents of America is a player in the process. We are making steady advancement, however, thanks to the strong growth of our organization in the past year, because of the fact that we have chosen to work on advocacy issues that are consistent with the goals of colleges and universities, and due to the outreach we have done to the alphabet soup of organizations here in the DC area who are looking out after the interests of schools in general and professions within those schools in particular.

We will keep at our work, as long as it takes, because we are convinced that, if we do our job right, College Parents of America will become to the 21st century what the PTA was to the 20th. And you will have been there at the start, an early adopter among your peers and a charter member of a movement that will make the mixed messages of Milwaukee’s NACAC 2004 a distant memory.