Supporting Parents of First-Generation Students

Supporting Parents of First-Generation Students

Engaging the family in college search

Parents are key influencers on college enrollment for all students, but the parents of first-generation students are less likely to expect their children to enroll in college than parents with postsecondary experience. Even when parents want to be involved, logistical barriers and gaps in social capital prevent the families of first-generation students from supporting students throughout the admission process.

Download the entire publication or explore the four best practices below to increase first-generation student enrollment by engaging their parents.

More on this topic

This resource is part of the Improve Recruitment of Underrepresented Students Roadmap. Access the Roadmap for stepwise guidance with additional tools and research.

Parent-focused college access programs

Because parents influence college enrollment, Enrollment Managers (EMs) and college access program administrators should prioritize parental participation in K-12 college access programs. These programs should transform parents into college-going advocates so that first-generation students are encouraged and supported by their parents to pursue higher education.

After-hours campus tours

Campus tours are both an important part of how families assess fit and a key way for EMs to predict yield. However, campus tours are often inconveniently scheduled for working-class families who may have unavoidable work commitments during the typical weekday timing of tours.

To ensure all families can attend a campus tour, Point Loma Nazarene University began offering a monthly evening tour, the Sunset Tour, in 2012. In addition to the after-hours timing of the tour, families are invited to an informal meal in a campus dining hall following the tour.

Community-located orientation session

Like campus tours, new student orientations are often planned around expectations that students and parents can take time off, travel long distances to campus, speak English fluently, and be familiar with campus culture and customs. These assumptions do not align with the reality of work, transportation, and life experience for many parents of first-generation students.

Augustana College’s Enrollment Management team realized that most of their first-generation students were coming from Chicago, a considerable distance from the Rock Island campus. Because many parents were therefore unable to attend the traditional campus orientation, Augustana College launched a Chicago orientation option for these families.

Parent-expert networking event


increase in underrepresented minority yield for UMass Amherst from 2015-16 to 2016-17
increase in underrepresented minority yield for UMass Amherst from 2015-16 to 2016-17

Even if the families of first-generation students move beyond logistical barriers and attend campus events, they may harbor feelings of apprehension, stemming from their lack of personal experience with higher education.

To increase yield from events for underrepresented students, University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass) redesigned events to embed tailored parent-staff interactions, matching parents with the staff member who can best address their concerns at a key enrollment decision point.

Read the other white papers in the series

While higher education leaders agree on the need to increase diversity, long-standing preparedness gaps create critical barriers for enrolling a diverse class. This white paper explains the resulting pipeline problem, especially at selective colleges and universities, and three contemporary forces that make increasing diversity on campus more difficult than ever before.

A proliferation of college access programs fails to combat under-enrollment of underrepresented minority and low-income students. Discover how colleges and universities can increase the college-going rate of underrepresented populations through pipeline improvement efforts.

To enroll more underrepresented students, enrollment managers must alleviate student concerns and minimize process barriers. Explore the nine best practices to craft an application process tailored to the needs of each underrepresented applicant.

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