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Happy university graduate and her father smile while taking selfie.

College leaders can create more intentional outreach to parents through communication strategies, giving greater insight into campus happenings and news.

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A January 2023 survey from Pew Research found four in 10 parents say it’s extremely or very important for their child to earn a college degree. A majority of parents (73 percent) of college-bound children surveyed by Discover Student Loans in June 2023 say they believe college is necessary to find a good job.

To better engage with the families of current students, Duquesne University created targeted communications through a newsletter and message boards hosted in a portal. The work has helped parents be more connected to the campus community and share campus resources with their child.

Three administrators from Duquesne shared their work in an article, published in December in the Journal of Education Advancement and Marketing, highlighting the implementation strategy and impact.

What’s the need: Surveys highlighted the growing role of parents in students’ enrollment decisions, including a June 2022 national survey of high school seniors by EAB, which found 48 percent of respondents ranked parental influence as one of their top five sources of information on the admissions process.

Previously, the university communicated with parents on a sporadic basis, giving inconsistent and sometimes repetitive updates, with most information coming during the enrollment and recruitment process but not much afterward, according to the article.

The EAB survey also found 75 percent of parents nationally want direct communication with the institution, and 85 percent want at least weekly communication. Feedback from Duquesne alumni parents indicated that the institution was not meeting their expectations in the level of communication they wanted.

Leaders decided to create a targeted communication strategy for parents, including implementing a parent-only portal and newsletter.

Setting it up: A cross-functional team worked alongside the university marketing and communications staff to identify the most beneficial communication for parents, identifying four principles that all communication should hit: timeliness, intelligibility, motivation and personalization.

Duquesne’s student life department also hired a person to oversee the platform and work alongside the vendor, communications team and enrollment management group. The university partnered with CampusESP to host the portal.

Connecting with parents: The portal launched in July 2021, communicating with over 10,000 family members of current students as of fall 2023. After the initial the launch, an internal content strategy team met weekly to develop posts and review engagement metrics, but it now meets biweekly to ensure consistency and accuracy of communication.

Parents and guardians received an invitation to opt in to the communications, receiving daily updates in the portal and a biweekly newsletter on events, students, university plans and announcements. Users can comment or engage in a call to action in the posts within the portal, as well as join message boards for different groups such as first-gen or fourth-year families.

Engaging First-Gen Parents

Overly involved parents can be considered “helicopter parents,” but some parents are unfamiliar with the structures of higher education or the student experience because they themselves haven’t attended college.

Miami University in Ohio partners with the parents of first-generation students during orientation to pull back the curtain on attending college as well as connect parents to staffers who can answer questions and help.

The newsletter repackages daily posts into a singular location, organizing content by newsworthiness.

One critical element of the communication is sharing upcoming student-facing events and larger community days (such as homecoming or family weekend) so parents can serve as promoters for students to get plugged in.

Based on feedback, the university also worked with CampusESP to develop a module for parents and guardians to request FERPA information, allowing them to gain access to their students’ class schedule, GPA, financial aid and holds. In the module, students are notified of the request and then approve or deny the permissions. Around 80 percent of FERPA requests are approved by the student.

The work has helped break down silos across the institution, uniting the parent relations team with other campus stakeholders to share information as well as improved outreach to families.

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