Let’s start with a basic truth: Parents, you are not the ones going to college. Your kids are.
Colleges therefore prefer, and most insist, that by the time they get to college, kids are able to manage their own lives – meaning they are the ones to call or email professors, visit the dean, stay in touch with their advisors, and go to health services when they are sick.
In fact, under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), once a student reaches 18 or attends a postsecondary institution, all rights formerly given to parents transfer to the student.
This means that a school may not generally disclose personally identifiable information from a student’s education records to a third party, including a parent, without the student’s written consent –even if the parent is paying the tuition bill!
But your student can (and should) give you access to things like tuition bills and grades by signing a FERPA waiver form, generally available on the school website.
Colleges do like parents, however, and want them to be involved to some degree — aside from giving to the annual fund. Nowadays, colleges are beginning to understand that parents who have close relationships with their students are not to be feared but embraced. Studies show that parent involvement, within parameters, correlates positively with student success.
What Type of Parental Involvement is Helpful?
From what we’ve learned along the way, it’s all about balance. Staying in touch with your kid, but not calling incessantly, may mean waiting for them to reach out first. Being interested in hearing about their classes and activities but not dictating what clubs they should join, for example, is important for them to discover their own passions (plus, it conveys that you trust them to make their own decisions). You might encourage them to take advantage of campus resources, particularly if they are struggling academically, emotionally or physically – but let them advocate for themselves. That said, you want to be aware of any significant changes in your student and know when there might be a serious reason for you to step in. In the end: Trust your instincts but give them the space to figure things out for themselves.
Are Colleges Encouraging Parents To Be Involved?
Many schools have some type of parents program or ways to make parents feel a part of the college community. Some schools offer an online forum or listserv for parents to discuss college-related issues, many hold seminars just for parents during orientation and/or family weekend, and others send out newsletters to keep parents informed about what’s happening on campus. To stay in the loop, parents should be sure to sign up for any newsletters or to be added to emails directed to parents from the university.
The college years are an important time. It is a time of tremendous personal growth and change – for you and your student. Colleges understand this, and continue to find new ways to nurture a positive relationship with college parents.
KnowsyMoms founders Patti Winkel and Dani Rogers realized there was more to sending their kids off to college than buying a few things and kissing them goodbye. KnowsyMoms is a website that provides parents of college students with information and tips about everything they need to know, buy and do as they help their kids get ready for freshman year and beyond, navigate the issues related to college life, and stay connected while letting go.