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A mom and daughter work together on a laptop

Regular webinars help parents stay connected to their children’s college and stay informed about the college experience.

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Family members can play a pivotal role in a student’s college experience. A January survey from Pew Research Center found one-third of young adults (ages 18 to 34) say they rely on their parents for emotional support a great deal or a fair amount, and a similar number said they ask their parents for career or job advice (35 percent) or financial guidance (31 percent) extremely or very often.

However, many families feel like they don’t hear often enough from their child’s college. CampusESP surveyed over 20,000 parents of current college students and found 70 percent expect weekly communication from their student’s institution, with first-generation parents more likely to want regular communication.

Parents also say they are unable to find important information from their child’s institution. Survey respondents indicate knowing that certain information—including student job placement, career services, mental health support resources and financial aid and scholarships—is important to student success, but they don’t know where to find it. First-generation parents are less likely to say they know where to find information on costs, financial aid, payment plans and the academic calendar, as well.

To better connect families to the institution, staff at Alabama A&M University created a new program to provide insight, helpful resources and guidance to parents.

The Bulldog Parent University program launched in fall 2023 with a webinar series to provide timely and relevant support for parents throughout the year and will scale for more frequent engagement in the future, AAMU staff shared at NASPA’s Student Success in Higher Education conference last month in Anaheim, Calif.

What’s the need: AAMU is the largest historically Black institution in the state, serving over 6,000 students, 30 percent of whom are first generation, explained Pamela H. Little, executive director of the office of multicultural affairs. To better support first-generation success, the university created F1rst Bulldogs, which covers the transition to college, building a social network and connecting with essential resources and is housed in the multicultural affairs office.

Within this program, staff also developed Bulldog Parent University, hoping to connect parents of first-generation students with the institution to help them guide and support their children throughout their college experience, promoting retention and engagement on all levels.

First-generation parents often want to engage with their students, but they can be unaware of the questions to ask, Little shared. This initiative empowers parents with accurate information, helping them be better advisers for their students.

Staying Connected

Pew’s research found two in 10 young adults send their parents text messages at least daily, and an additional 38 percent text with their parents a few times a week. Just under half of young people also stay connected through phone and video calls to their parents at least a few times a week.

CampusESP’s report, similarly, found 44 percent of families communicate with their students at least once a day, and an additional 35 percent talk several times a week.

How it works: Bulldog Parent University is geared toward the family members of first-year students who may need additional guidance around the higher education system, academic calendar and support resources.

Each webinar is hosted live from 6 to 7 p.m. Central time, and parents can register two weeks in advance. The registration form asks for the parent’s contact information, as well as their student’s name and ID number, and it includes a box for parents to share topics they want more information on.

The first webinar took in October, titled “No Time to Fall Back!,” covered academic deadlines at the midterm point as well as residential life and housing, student accounts, financial aid, and academic resources. Each month following (with the exception of December), parents could tune in to a presentation from the Office of Multicultural Affairs or a partner department as relevant, such as academic affairs or business finance. After, parents could ask questions and engage with staff in real time.

The impact: The webinars proved to be a valuable resource to parents, with high levels of attendance and engagement across sessions. Postwebinar feedback, collected through a survey, found parents learned more about higher education processes such as work-study and housing, but also how to “let your baby grow up,” shared Atari Steele, assistant director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, during the conference.

Most webinars lasted 60 minutes, but depending on the topics, parents sometimes had more questions and concerns, so staff are considering extending the length to an hour and a half as needed. The housing session was the most tense, Steele said, with heightened emotions around the process.

In the future, staff plan to build out additional resources such as a parent engagement tool kit or parent orientation to promote communication, engagement and sustainability of the program. Staff also hope to understand parents’ needs beyond their student’s first year at AAMU.

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