Higher Ed: How To Target Parents to Increase Yield

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The top 3 reasons why you should be engaging parents more, and 9 ways you can engage them.

There used to be helicopter parenting, and now there’s lawnmower (or snowplow) parenting, depending on where you are in relation to the Mason-Dixon line! Instead of just hovering over kids like a helicopter, more parents are now trying to literally “mow over” any problem their child faces, clearing the way so the child doesn’t feel any discomfort or disappointment. 

Many parents faced with sending their child off to college are dealing with empty nest syndrome! They have lived for their children for the past 18 years and are now struggling with how to let go. 

These parents have been driving some college administrators nuts by calling to check in on their child and demanding to know what type of events and activities are happening on campus. 

Colleges Are Responding by Creating Facebook Groups for Parents 

In an effort to help parents better manage their need to know what is happening on campus, colleges and universities have started creating parenting Facebook groups.

According to a piece by The New York Times, in 2019 more than 200,000 people joined university parent groups on Facebook in the U.S.

This clearly shows that there is a big need for parents to feel connected to their child’s college experience. In fact, colleges should start fostering a meaningful relationship with their prospective student’s parents at the very beginning of the enrollment process. 

Here’s what’s crazy: 8 out of 10 parents are very involved in their child’s college planning process, but only half of parents said they received communications specifically for them from colleges. Don’t let this be said about your college!

How Focusing on Parents Improves Your Enrollment Yield 

So, here’s exactly why you should care:

Colleges may be able to increase student enrollment yield by as much as 30% by engaging parents in the admissions process! 

It’s been shown that the more involved and supported a parent feels, the higher your yield will be. That’s why it’s so important for schools to focus on winning over both the student and the parent. 

We’re going to discuss 4 reasons why colleges should target parents, and provide 9 ways to engage parents more! 

The Top 3 Reasons Why Colleges Should Target Parents:

  1. There’s a better chance of admissions related communications actually being viewed and acted upon. 
  2. Student enrollment yield can be greatly increased (let the parent be your advocate!!)
  3. Involving parents ensures better retention rates.   

And 9 Effective Ways to Engage Parents More:

  1. Send out communications specifically for parents during the admissions process by collecting their contact information
  2. Keep in touch with parents about important due dates/deadlines 
  3. Create video content specifically speaking to parents about issues they are most concerned about including mental health, student support, career outcomes, campus safety, etc
  4. Promote parent Facebook groups 
  5. Provide a parent/guardian track during student orientation
  6. Create webinars for parents 
  7. Host welcome events for new parents
  8. Send out scheduled parent newsletters 
  9. Promote your parent/family weekend 
  10. Create a parent/family “leadership” council 

Let’s start by digging in to the top three reasons why you should be targeting parents! 

The TOP 3 Reasons Why You Should be Targeting Parents 

1. Your Communications Will Be Viewed and Acted Upon

Prospective parents are more engaged than prospective students. Your email communications have a better chance of being viewed by parents because parents check their emails way more than teens do! 

One study found that parent engagement most exceeded student engagement in the inquiry stage. Parent inquiries opened 2.7 times as many emails as their student! 

In case that doesn’t have you convinced, here’s some more stats: 

  • Families of first-year students have a 61% email open rate
  • Families of first-generation students have a 64% email open rate
  • Families of prospective students have a 63% email open rate

This is why you should be specifically targeting prospective parents in the inquiry stage: they’re the ones who are reading important emails, and they’re the ones who are going to pass this information to their child, your prospective student

If you’re not targeting parents at the very beginning: you’re missing out. It’s clear that parents are hungry for any information that they can get during the admissions process! 

2. You’ll Have Better Student Enrollment Yield

Not long after the inquiry stage comes the time for a student to decide whether or not they will enroll — and whether or not parents have been meaningfully engaged prior to this can be one of the biggest deciding factors. 

A company that creates emails for colleges to send to parents (CampusESP) compared an institution’s regular enrollment rate to the enrollment rate for students who had parents using their Family Portal, using Fall 2017 admissions statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). 

They found that the enrollment rate for students with engaged parents was more than 30% higher

You should have no doubts at this point: specifically targeting parents early should be one of your main goals. 

Targeting parents during the admissions process doesn’t just help the way they understand or feel about your school — it can translate into tangible results in your enrollment yield. 

3. You’ll Have Better Retention Rates

Here’s one last reason to target parents, in case you’re not already convinced: you’ll have better retention rates. 

When parents are more engaged, students are more likely to keep progressing towards completing their degree. This could be for a few reasons: 

  • Parents are able to remind their student about important deadlines and due dates 
  • Out of the college choices a student picked, your school may be the only one proactively reaching out to parents. The parent can become your advocate. 
  • By offering webinars and other resources you may bring the parent along, and this parent can encourage their child to keep going and persist despite enrollment difficulties.

Data backs this up, too. Colleges who engage with parents and further connect with students can see a 15% bump in yield! 

A qualitative analysis of student persistence was conducted at Abilene Christian University among 993 students and these were their findings: 

  • 396 students were connected to their parents, and 82.5% of them persisted to the second year of college. 
  • 597 were not connected to their parents, and only 72.4% of them persisted to the second year of college. 

Don’t stop engaging parents after the child enrolls! Keeping the parent engaged can help with retention rates. 

What To Do Next: 9 Ways to Engage Parents

Here’s 9 ways you can make sure that your prospective and current parents are feeling the love just as much your students are! 

1. Send Out Communications Specifically for Parents During the Admissions Process

Parents want to hear from you. And they want to know how your school can help their child succeed. 

Nearly 8 out of 10 parents are very involved in their child’s college planning process, but only half of parents said they received communications specifically for them from colleges. That’s wild! 

You can put your school ahead by sending out communications specifically for parents. Consider addressing topics like: 

  • Testimonials from parents of current students
  • Graduation statistics 
  • Financial aid data 
  • Positive career outcomes 
  • Campus safety 
  • Mental health support
  • Clubs and networking opportunities 
  • Sharing what to expect after graduation 
  • College tuition ROI 

You want to highlight the value of your institution and let parents know that they can trust you with their child’s academic and professional future. 

2. Keep in Touch With Parents About Important Due Dates/Deadlines

Something as simple as a missed financial aid deadline or a past-due bill could be the reason a student doesn’t return to campus. 

And, chances are, the student isn’t keeping up with these deadlines (whether in their senior year of high school or freshman year of college) since they have so many other deadlines to worry about!  Most teens haven’t had enough experience managing these types of deadlines without parenteral support.  

Schools should make sure to send reminders specifically to parents about upcoming financial deadlines to make sure that bills get paid on time, ensuring that their student gets to return to campus. 

3. Promote Parent Facebook Groups

Like we mentioned earlier, more than 200,000 people joined university parent groups on Facebook in the U.S. in 2019. Since most parents are very familiar with Facebook, it can be a great platform for your school to provide parent support. 

Parent Facebook groups can be overseen by a school administrator, but will be mostly run by the parents themselves! Parents use these Facebook groups as a source to find support, community, and identity with other parents. 

Parent Facebook groups can take some of the weight off of your shoulders:

  • They can help answer FAQs. 
  • Existing parents can help new parents with answers to pre-move-in. questions about what to buy and what to expect. 
  • They can re-direct trivial traffic/questions from your admissions office 
  • They can be a main source of information to answer basic questions.

One poll conducted among families about where they got most of their information found that the parent and family Facebook group ranked the highest, even above the school website or the families’ own students! 

If you already have a parent Facebook group, make sure that you’re strongly promoting it for both new and existing parents. Dedicate internal resources to help you manage the Facebook group. Consider adding other parents as admins to help facilitate the group conversations. Some of your parents may be happy to be admins and engage with other parents. 

If you don’t already have a parent Facebook group, you need to invest in one today — your parents will thank you! 

4. Provide a Parent/Guardian Track During Student Orientation

Providing a parent track during student orientation can help calm nervous parents’ fears and help them feel more confident in the child’s enrollment. 

These sessions can cover topics such as: 

  • Campus safety issues (drinking, crime, sexual assault) 
  • Police presence on campus 
  • How to access important resources, so when the child is overwhelmed the parent can come in and help them answer their questions  

In some cases, these parent orientation sessions can determine enrollment! 

Parents whose children who have still not made their college choice will, on rare occasions, go to orientations at different schools to encourage their children to select a college based on the orientation program. 

Don’t skimp on your parent orientation program!

5. Create webinars for parents

Show parents that you care about the whole scope of their child’s college experience. Consider creating timely webinars for parents relating to specific things that their child is going through during their college experience.

Topic ideas include: 

  • Supporting your student through academic challenges 
  • Homesickness
  • Advising
  • Interviewing prep
  • Academic success
  • Student wellness 
  • Financial aid, merit ad, scholarships, different ways to pay for college
  • Different ways their child can get involved and have the best college experience possible
  • How to keep your child intrinsically motivated to own their own learning outcomes 
  • Work-study opportunities
  • Graduate programs and certificates 
  • Lifelong learning for parents too 

This will show prospective parents you care about these things and will make them more likely to encourage their child to enroll in your school. 

6. Host Welcome Events for New Parents

Welcome events are a chance for new parents to feel included! So much of the orientation/welcome process is geared toward new students that new parents may start to feel a little lost. 

Parent welcome events give new parents a chance to find community with other new parents, helping them to not feel alone during the “separation” process. 

A parent welcome event can also help inspire excitement rather than grief. Make your parents focus more on how happy they are that their child is going to your school rather than focus on their sadness of letting their child go. 

7. Send Out Scheduled Parent Email Newsletters

Sending out a scheduled parent newsletter is a great chance to maintain a good relationship with parents throughout their child’s college years. These can be a great way to keep reminding them that their child made the right choice! 

Parent newsletters could run on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. Topic ideas include: 

  • Notable campus events 
  • Inspiring campus initiatives 
  • Important dates and deadlines 
  • COVID-19 updates, specifically how the school is handling it 
  • Timely FAQs to avoid unnecessary calls/emails from parents 

Parent newsletters are a great way to keep up with parents and make them feel informed and included

8. Promote Your Parent/Family Weekend

Most schools have a parent/family weekend, and these can actually be one of the highlights of the year for parents, especially if parents aren’t hearing much from their child. 

Make sure to strongly promote your family weekend in the months leading up to it to create a sense of anticipation and excitement. Parents want something to look forward to! 

Bringing the parent and the child together on your campus for some fun is a great way to foster the parent’s connection to their child’s college experience!

9. Create a Parent/Family “Leadership” Council

A parent/family “leadership” council can be great for parents that want to take an especially active role in their child’s college experience. 

Some parents may be seeking leadership opportunities and dynamic involvement with their child’s school beyond typical parent involvement.  

Encouraging participation in a parent/family leadership council can help provide a few opportunities for involved parents: 

  • Building community and cultivating engagement 
  • Advancing the mission of the school 
  • Service opportunities and philanthropy 

All of this extra work can also help you drive more donations and help with future fundraising goals.

You Need to Be Engaging Parents!

So, why should you be targeting parents? 

  • Your communications have a better chance of being heard and acted upon
  • Your enrollment yield can greatly increase 
  • You can promote better retention rates 

It’s so important that you develop a plan of action for how you’re going to accommodate parents all throughout their child’s college years, beginning in the inquiry stage, continuing in the enrollment process, and following through during the student’s entire time at your school.

Don’t shut these parents out! If you give them the time, they can be one of your greatest allies. 

Ellison Ellery Consulting Can Help.

Put our 20 years of experience to help you create your Parenting Outreach Strategy.  We can help you with all of the elements required to launch and maintain a successful parenting outreach program, including:  

  • We can help you get clarity of message to parents
  • Create your communication strategy including what touchpoints to use
  • Audit your internal resources to identify how we can execute these new initiatives 
  • Write newsletter copy
  • Create social media posts and ads 
  • Create a webinar strategy and webinar template to use for future events 
  • Provide coaching and training on how to create your parenting strategy and keep it going for years to come 

Schedule a Consultation

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