Over the years, parental involvement in the college decision-making process has grown significantly. Here’s my take on a study showing how to identify them and then what to do in your marketing.
The trend of parental involvement in a student’s college decision is growing.
Of course, parents have been an important factor in prospective students’ decisions for decades now.
But in the Millennial generation, we saw parental involvement rise from being a factor in the college decision to becoming almost a requirement. For Gen Z prospective students, this is becoming even more of a reality in their college decision.
That’s the difference between “I hope my parents like this,” and “I can’t go there because my parents don’t like that school.”
Why is this trend growing so quickly? I believe there are several factors involved.
First of all, the general approach to parenting is changing in North America to be way more “hands on.”
There is a big controversy surrounding this social trend. Some say “helicopter parenting” or overly involved parents harm children’s development. Others say more involved parents are the key to children’s success in today’s environment.
If you and I only think as marketers, it’s not really important if this trend is “good” or not.
What’s important is the reality that parents are more involved in their children’s life decisions than ever before.
Secondly, the cost of college is going up.
And when the costs go up, parents want to be more involved.
Besides, for many parents, it’s their money that will be invested for the child to go through college.
How do you identify prospective students with involved parents?
This is an important question. Not every prospective student has parents who play a major part in their college decision.
When you see a family with their attention on their smartphones instead of each other, it can be tempting to think that somehow they’re not involved in each other’s lives.
But that’s just not the case.
Parents today are more tech savvy, which means parents and children are much more connected than before.
Parents who are involved in technology add their kids as friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter or Instagram. They also keep up almost minute-to-minute through messaging apps and real-time geographical tracking apps.
So sure, family dinner can suffer when everyone’s checking their phone instead of having a conversation, but technology has been bringing families together in ways that education marketers need to be aware of.
Families with higher sources of income tend to have highly-involved parents in the college decision.
Parents with higher incomes are more likely to be educated and wish for their children to follow in their academic footsteps.
Also, higher-income parents often have more discretionary time to help their children search for and decide on the right college.
One final thought here: Highly-involved parents tend to pay closer attention to the list price of their child’s education, regardless of their household income.
This makes a big difference for your bottom line, so identifying and cultivating highly-involved parents needs to be high on the list of priorities.
Come to find out, male students are more likely to have highly-involved parents in the college decision.
I’m not exactly sure why this is the case, but on the whole, female students tend to organize and plan their academic journeys a little earlier in life than their male counterparts.
Male students, generally speaking, require a little more parental involvement in the college decision to help them make a better choice for themselves and their families.
The study found that “parents of white students tended to be more involved than parents of Hispanic students.”
This could be because of the income consideration that I mentioned above.
Many Hispanic parents are first-generation or second-generation immigrants who’re working hard to provide for their families. This might keep them from being more involved in their child’s college decision.
Of course, it could be cultural nuance, but that’s outside my realm of expertise.
The important thing is that this post is not a judgement on how different parents approach the college decision.
For you and me as marketers, there is no right or wrong way when it comes to how involved a parent should be in their child’s decision.
But we do need to know how parents of different ethnicities approach the college decision so that we can craft marketing messages that better resonate with them in their cultural context.
One of the last findings in the study was that parents who wanted their child to attend a faith-based school were much more involved in the college decision.
The primary example in North America would be parents of the Christian faith.
Many Christian parents believe they have a religious obligation to educate their children in the values and teachings of the faith. Therefore, they will have a much greater say in where their child goes.
And even inside the Christian faith, you might find that parents steer their children towards a particular Christian tradition.
For example, protestant parents are more likely to persuade their children to go to protestant colleges rather than Catholic colleges, and vice versa.
This means that if you’re a faith-based school, you should be producing content for parents. They are your strongest recruiters!
Parents who’ve attended college are more likely to be involved in their child’s college decision.
But not only that, they’re more likely to steer their child toward their alma mater.
In the study I’ve been referring to, these parents are called “legacy parents.” Legacy parents are parents “who want their children to carry on the family tradition of attending the school they attended.”
Legacy parents are much more likely to be involved with a prospective student’s decision –especially if they “have been active in alumni clubs or attend campus-related events.”
Immediately, I think about the parents who bring their children to college ball games to cheer on their alma mater. It’s a good possibility that these parents are going to be involved in their child’s college decision.
Improving Marketing Personas
While the online survey I’m referencing in this post isn’t as robust as I’d like it to be (only 506 students participated), I think the insights we have from it are accurate.
The question is then, do your prospective students have highly-involved parents?
Does the average prospective student you’re recruiting have these traits? If so, how will you change your current comm flow or marketing messaging to take advantage of that?
I recommend that you revisit your marketing personas and update them to include information on how involved the parents are in their child’s college decision.
And if you have highly-involved parents, keep an eye out for my next post! In it, I’ll share some strategies to build brand loyalty among parents.
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