Program aims to keep parents involved
February 9, 2011
By: Leslie Lyon 

Incoming college students have many questions: What will my roommate be like? Will I be able to find my classrooms? How did I end up with a class that lasts until 5:50 p.m. on Fridays?

Friends, counselors and professors help them navigate their way.

But what about parents? How do they get information about the University, their own responsibilities and how their student is doing?

That’s where DU’s Parents Program comes in.

Started in 1994, the Parents Program facilitates communication between the University and parents by helping them stay involved in their student’s education while allowing their sons or daughters to maintain their independence.

“We try to help [parents] find the right amount of support for their student,” says Laura Stevens, DU’s director of parent relations. “There are a lot of adjustments in those first weeks. So we keep parents informed about what’s happening on campus.”

And parents appreciate that help. DU’s Parents Association has 4,097 families who receive the bimonthly Parents@DU newsletter, along with an additional 1,475 members who pay a four-year fee of $125 for services such as early access to registration for “Moms” and “Dads” weekends, a 10-percent discount at the campus bookstore, a quarterly drawing for a $250 gift certificate to the bookstore and, says Stevens, the pride of “knowing that you’re supporting our program. Doing so is setting a good example for their students.”

DU parents learn about the program when the University mails a package to the family of each incoming student in June. It contains an academic calendar, a parent and family handbook, and a flyer. Then, in July and August, parents of current DU students volunteer to make calls to families of incoming students.

“It’s a very special outreach, not specifically from the University but from current parents,” Stevens says. “Last year, we personally reached over 800 families.”

Although the program initially was considered a source of fundraising, Stevens says that “what became clear to the University was the value from the communication side and the opportunities for parents to be involved” in their students’ education and in University life.

Once parents are contacted, the Parents Program provides “a lot of information about what they can expect from DU’s programs” in addition to “guidelines about how they can be a coach for their students, what is appropriate communication with their students,” she says.

Parents sometimes are anxious about their students and campus life — so much so that they send text messages to the students several times a day.

“We encourage them to be in touch when they have specific questions, but for other concerns, the Parents Program can provide information,” Stevens says. “We can help the parents understand when it’s a good thing to help their student or when it’s more helpful to encourage their independence.”

Stevens also is one of the founding board members of the Boulder, Colo., based Association of Higher Education Parent/Family Program Professionals, which serves as a clearinghouse and resource center for new parent/family programs at colleges and universities around the country. Her expertise is highly sought as more schools develop similar plans to keep students, parents and the university in touch.

“Very often we provide sharing materials,” Stevens says. “A person who is starting a new program is looking for ideas and advice. They ask: What has my experience been? What has worked? What hasn’t worked? There’s a lot of sharing of ideas and discoveries, and so on.”

Miami University’s Kris Stewart, vice chair of the group’s board, says the organization and other schools around the country have found Stevens’ guidance valuable.

“Her knowledge and abilities have contributed significantly to the building of [the association] and the success of our first national conference,” held last month in Boulder with members from 75 U.S. colleges and universities attending. Stewart has worked with Stevens for more than 10 years, since they “became part of a group that felt more was needed to help parents and family programming.”

Stevens and Stewart agree that a successful parents program not only helps students and their families, but “contributes directly to the overall success of the institution,” as Stewart puts it.

That success shows during an annual summer reception DU holds for incoming parents, Stevens says, when “parents have come up to me specifically and thanked me” for the University’s program.

“I’ve had parents say, ‘[Other] schools don’t do anything like this.’”

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