It's easy for college leaders to complain about overly involved "helicopter" parents, but frankly, I understand parental anxieties. In fact, I am a college parent. I want to know that my children are safe and cared for, although I also recognize they need to learn to deal with problems on their own. When my daughters got pneumonia or had roommate issues, I was very worried.
I never would have called the president's office, as some families do, but there are admittedly times when I have wondered if "the person at the top" knows about the class where work is never returned on time or about the adviser who fails to answer multiple email messages. I understand the occasional question, borne of worry and frustration: "What am I paying for?"
Above all, I understand that parents and caregivers want their children to attend schools that are distinguished by caring and committed faculty and staff so that students have the support they need to thrive. That's why I think the quality of attention and commitment to students should be central in the college decision-making process.
My 10 years as a college and graduate school parent have reinforced that the level of personal attention to students' learning, personal development, and success in college and beyond varies enormously across institutions — everyone says they provide it, but only a small number really deliver on that promise.
What is most important in choosing a college? Personal attention that grows from a fundamental commitment to students and their success. Commitment and caring are evidenced in various ways. Now that college decision time is here for fall 2017, here are some tips on signs that personal attention is a priority:
Does it really make a difference to attend a school where you find these qualities? Yes, research suggests that it does. A 2014 Gallup-Purdue University study of college graduates demonstrated that those undergraduate students who had experienced personal attention and strong support of professors and others on campus were, after graduation, much more likely to be thriving – to have jobs they liked, to be more engaged in their work, and to be happier overall. Colleges that provide personal attention and support are better for our children and for our well-being as parents.