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We made the drive to Maryland this weekend for Parents’ Weekend at UMD. It got me thinking.

The first thought, of course, is that Route 95 is awful. The Delaware Memorial Bridge is under major construction, and we crawled through several parts of Maryland both down and back. On the way down, we were trying to catch an afternoon info session. We were only slightly late, but prefrazzled when we got there. We caught a Terps football game, though, which was fun. And traffic in greater D.C. is not for the faint of heart.

The more important thought, though, was about the purpose of a parents’ weekend. Would something like that make sense at a commuter college?

At a residential college or university with lots of out-of-state students, one function of a parents’ weekend is just to create an opportunity for students and their parents to see each other. That’s much less relevant when almost everyone lives within an hour of campus. Without dorms, there’s less of a bubble.

Sports tend to be lower profile here, too. There’s certainly nothing near the size of any Big Ten football stadium.

But I could see value in a designated midsemester day for families.

At a basic level, it could send the message that families are welcome. That’s important not just from the cynical perspective of keeping paying customers happy, as real as that is. It also recognizes that the idea of college as a place to break away from family is somewhat culturally specific. For many first-generation students, college is very much a family decision. And it can bring anxieties about losing touch with family or growing apart from them. Bringing the family to campus may help demystify what’s going on and build a sense of belonging. We know that a sense of belonging can help students stay the course.

Family comfort could also help recruit younger siblings in the future, which is no small thing. For that matter, it could bring in parents or other adults as students, especially in workforce programs. It’s one thing to hear that a college has an automotive program; it’s another to actually see the service bays.

A parents’ weekend is different from a traditional open house. An open house usually happens on a weekend and is aimed at prospective students. A family day or parents’ day would involve bringing in the significant others of current students.

Has anyone out there seen a commuter college do a parents’ weekend (or the equivalent)? If so, what made it work (or not)? Is there a secret sauce?

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