Most enrollment managers recognize that parents play an important role in a student’s college enrollment journey. Parents are the most dominant voice in students’ college search, according to one EAB survey.
Despite parents’ heavy influence, enrollment teams are often slow to engage them during students’ college search.
But parents want to hear from colleges and universities. Seventy-four percent of parents say they believe schools should communicate directly with them during recruitment, according to an EAB survey of more than 1,500 parents of college-bound students.
Pulling from EAB’s enrollment research, we compiled a few guidelines for enrollment teams who want to engage the most influential people in students’ college search—their parents.
1: Contact parents early
Colleges and universities who engage with students at the very start of their college search journey see higher application rates. And students who engage earlier enroll at higher rates and have stronger academic profiles.
Engaging parents early on brings benefits, too. Parents are more open to considering institutions far away from home and different types of institutions earlier in their students’ high school career, according to EAB’s parent survey. But they narrow down the range of options they will consider as their students approach graduation.
Enrollment teams can get parent contact information by asking students directly, writes Emily Upton, managing director of program marketing, for EAB’s Enrollment blog. At schools that partner with EAB to help recruit sophomore and junior students, 41% or more of their student search responders share parent contact information, notes Upton. Those students are 53% more likely to submit the college application.
2: Guide the college cost conversation
When EAB asked parents of college-bound students to identify their most pressing concerns, three of the four most commonly cited had to do with paying for college. A third of respondents aren’t sure how much to pay for their students’ education and 43% reported being unsure if they could afford any college at all.
Enrollment teams who help parents understand college finances have an opportunity to contextualize college costs and highlight their institution’s return on education, writes Upton. Emphasize the benefits parents care about the most, such as student-success support, job placement, and career prep, she recommends.
3: Tailor campus events for parents of first-generation students
Parents of prospective first-generation students can struggle to participate in their children’s college enrollment. The timing and location of recruitment events often don’t accommodate families who may be unable to miss work or travel long distances.
But enrollment teams can make on-campus events more accessible to parents from underrepresented populations by being creative about date, location, and format.
For example, Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) offers a monthly campus tour scheduled in the evening, dubbed the “Sunset Tour.” The tour includes an informal dinner that allows for open conversations and discussions. PLNU reports that students who attend the evening event apply at significantly higher rates than students who attend the regular tour.
4: Choose digital channels that fit parents’ online habits
Just like your prospective students, parents have their own digital habits and preferences, writes Pam Kiecker Royall, the head of EAB’s enrollment services research. For example, nearly a quarter of parents say they click on digital ads sometimes, often, or always, and 68% say they don’t use ad blockers on social media, according to EAB’s parent survey.
Evidence from EAB recruitment-marketing campaigns shows that parents engage with digital marketing even more than students do, writes Royall. Click rates are as much as 1.5 times higher for parents, across a broad range of ad themes and calls to action. Parents are also more likely than students to return to ads repeatedly.
5: Keep parents in the loop
Some parents will want to stay actively involved in their students’ college experience long after they pay the enrollment deposit. As students face a tougher labor market and rising student debt, parents may (understandably) feel a greater urge to ensure their children have a valuable college experience.
But helicopter parenting can frustrate students or lead them to develop a sense of entitlement, warns one former dean.
Campus leaders can help assuage any fears parents have about college by sharing information about the campus experience. For example, Ryerson University sends out a parent newsletter to highlight campus events and hosts information sessions to explain what parents can expect from their student’s first year of college.