college parents

More on Parental Communication in the First Year of College

Devoted readers will recall that my last blog post was prompted by a paper by Sax & Weintraub on patterns of communication between first-year college students and their parents.  After I'd written it I realized one thing was nagging me about the results, and so I contacted my friend and colleague Linda Sax, who was one of the authors.  I was struck that the article did not discuss if there had been different patterns of communication with mothers and/or fathers for male and female students, and so I asked.

Linda told me that this was actually the second paper they had written from this set of data, and that indeed the first paper (which she kindly sent me) had published results showing that yes, indeed, there were differences.

As one might expect, communication while students were in school was most frequent between mothers and daughters, and then between mothers and sons.  For fathers, the pattern was reversed: men were slightly more likely to communicate with fathers than mothers.  Many students were satisfied with the amount of contact they had, although 46% of women and 33% of men wanted more contact with their fathers.

The desire to want more communication with fathers is associated with declines in emotional wellbeing from entering college until the spring of freshman year.  While it is difficult to use this data to definitely say that lower levels of communication with fathers leads to lower levels of emotional wellbeing, this is certainly a good possibility.  

In the other paper I wrote about by Sax & Weintraub we saw similar results with lower levels of communication with fathers associated with lower levels of academic adjustment. 

Again, as parents we need to remember that our job is not done once that last box is moved from the car to the dorm room.  Keeping lines of communication open is key in helping students be successful in that crucial first year of college. 

What Parents Need To Know

I did something new this week.  Usually I speak to college faculty, administrators, researchers, or policy wonks about my research.  But having, once again, come out of the college admissions process alive and witnessing another excellent choice by one of my children, I had an idea to do something new.  Talk to parents of high-school students.

Choosing to go to college isn't easy.  There are a lot of choices and it is a big financial commitment.  There are also a lot of misperceptions out there.  I saw that in visiting colleges with my children and in talking with parents of their friends.  I've been in higher education for over 25 years and there were still things I didn't know.  So I decided to try and help, and spent about three months (off and on) putting together a talk that tries to convey some helpful information in what can be a time of great stress.   I want to reduce that stress for parents and students. 

 I approached Notre Dame High School's Counseling Department (both my son and daughter graduated from there and had excellent college counseling ) with the idea: would this be of interest?  Turns out it was, and on Tuesday night I spoke in front of a standing-room only crowd. 

I was interested in how well I predicted what would be interesting to parents.  Sure enough, the whole idea of tuition discounting was the one that shook the room.  I used the Department of Education's College Scorecard to demonstrate this.  Only a handful of parents knew of this resource.  One of the parents that came up to me after the talk told me he immediately got on his phone and looked up all the schools his child was interested in.

Here are the main categories I discussed:

Why go to college?
Does it matter where you go?
What does college really cost?
Will my child have crippling debt?
How do you do college right?

My goal with this is to make the process less stressful for parents, and then hopefully also less stressful for their children.  From what I heard Tuesday night, it might have worked.