- Parents and guardians of students who are deciding where to attend college want to hear from institutions directly during that search and are highly concerned about cost and value, according to a new report from consultancy EAB.
- EAB surveyed more than 2,000 parents and guardians this year to glean insights into their role during the college hunt. The consultancy found they operate like college education is a product, and are more anxious and less trusting than previous generations of parents. During college searches, they were most commonly anxious about costs and the amount of debt students and families might have to take on.
- Because of this, parents want to hear about finances from the start of a college search. EAB recommends institutions dedicate communications to parents through multiple avenues.
College leaders know the trope of the “helicopter parent,” the overly involved mother or father who relentlessly watches over their children and their transition to higher learning. It’s a reality, too, spawning such horror stories as a parent supervising their child from the bushes during first-year orientation.
But students and institutions alike have come to rely more on parents for financial and advisory support. Parent income and savings foot nearly half of college costs, according to 2021 research by Sallie Mae.
Thus, parents and guardians expect to be intimately involved in the college search, as the new EAB report details. Three-fourths of polled parents indicated they wanted colleges to communicate with them directly during the hunt for a college, a slightly higher share than when EAB conducted a similar survey in 2020.
Parents of students who are part of underserved racial minority groups especially want direct communication, EAB found.
The survey did not capture whether the respondents were parents of first-generation college students.
Parents often start involving themselves in college searches around the same time their students begin research, with just under 20% of families starting to look into where to enroll during the first year of high school. That share reaches almost 50% by the end of sophomore year.
“Start communicating with parents early in the college search,” EAB said in a report summarizing the survey. “A multipronged approach to sourcing parent contact info can help you maximize reach and engagement among parents.”
EAB also allowed parents to identify their primary sources of anxiety during the college search. Respondents could pick up to five factors.
More than 60% reported that college costs caused them the most anxiety, followed by 42% who said it was potential debt. Also, 40% said the ability of their students to secure scholarships created anxiety, and the same share said it was whether a college fit their child.
Finances were of greater concern to Black at Hispanic families than White families, with 71% of Black parents and 73% of Hispanic parents listing it as a factor that inspired anxiety, versus 59% of White parents.
However, while they are chiefly concerned with finances, many families do not entirely grasp college affordability. Nearly half of parents reported they thought of college either in terms of sticker price or hadn’t considered the difference between sticker price and net cost.
Parents may also underestimate the money needed for college, with almost 90% saying they expect their children to graduate within four years. Most students do not graduate within that time frame, meaning they will pay tuition for more years to receive a diploma.
EAB recommended information about academic programs and financial details be readily available and easy to find on a college website. The survey found more than 60% of parents considered colleges’ webpages most helpful when researching where their students should enroll.
“In addition to digital resources, word-of-mouth sources also ranked highly, with parents naming high school counselors, friends and family, and other parents as top resources,” EAB's report said. “It’s important to note that your web presence can influence not only parents and students, but also their top influencers including counselors and other parents, too.”