An increasing number of high school students are going directly from high school into community colleges to begin their higher education. Many of these students still live with their parents for financial or other reasons. Many parents of these traditional students want to help their children make the transition from secondary school to college. This article discusses the instrumental role parents can play in encouraging a young student's move from high school into community college. The article contains tips for parents seeking to be supportive and suggests questions parents can ask to demonstrate their interest. Using these tips and suggestions, parents can show support for a child in community college without jeopardizing the child's new independence and responsibility as a college student.
According to the latest statistics compiled by the American Association of Community Colleges, 43 percent of community college students are age 21 or younger. Some of these are traditional students or students who proceeded directly from high school to college. Some traditional students attend community college to avoid the rising tuition costs at public and private four-year institutions. Some students are not ready to leave home and prefer to stay with or near their parents for the first two years of college. Unlike older students, traditional students may not have the maturity and savvy which are required to make their way in a new environment.
Parents as "First Responders" When Community College Students Need Help
There is a well-founded concern about the low retention rate at community colleges. Students are much more likely to drop out if they are not interacting with other students, professors, and guidance counselors. Yet studies show that the first place a student looks for help is not a classroom or guidance office, but rather his or her home. If a child comes to a parent with a question or problem and the parent does not know how to answer, the student may not take the initiative to seek out a guidance counselor or academic advisor at the college. In most cases, the parent simply needs to direct the child to the appropriate person or office at the community college. But if the parent is unaware of the various resources available at the college, that important link between the parent and the college may be lost.
In this video, Professor Marshall Duke delivers a popular annual lecture to parents on changes to expect in their relationship with newly college-aged children.
Knowledge about the Community Colleges and Its Resources
Parents need to familiarize themselves with the community college their child attends before they can support the child's transition in a meaningful way. If the parents went to college, they need to find out how their child's community college differs from the college they attended and also recognize how information technology has changed the higher education experience. Many community college students are the first generation in their family to attend college. Their parents may have an even steeper learning curve in educating themselves about the college.
A growing number of community colleges are responding to parents' need for information. They have instituted varying types of programs to integrate and inform parents. Some community colleges invite parents to orientation programs or hold special events for parents to attend. Owens Community College near Toledo, Ohio, has a program tailored to parents of first-generation college students called "Parent College 101: Strategies for First-Generation College Families." The two-hour program discusses the child's education and its impact on the family.
Some community colleges have information on their websites specifically directed toward parents.
Metropolitan Community College -- Longview, in Lee's Summit, Missouri, has a very informative Parents Resources section on its website. There is a question and answer section that addresses several questions parents are likely to have as their child enters community college. For example, what if my student does not have a major?; what is the cost?; what safety/security precautions are in place?; what is a typical class size? There is a very helpful section that compares high school with college. Studying these factors will give parents a good idea of the changes that a child will encounter when transitioning from high school to college.
Herkimer County Community College in Herkimer, New York, has a parent-oriented section on its website called "HCCC Parents." Topics covered include academic advisors, the bursar's and registrar's offices, safety/security, and the alcohol/illegal drugs policy. They also have a section on college terms, where they explain the various community college degrees and other terms like "credit hour," "full-time student," "part-time student," "drop/add," and "plagiarism." The college also offers a free parents' newsletter.
Skagit Valley College, which has several campuses in Washington, has a section on its website called "No Parent Left Behind." Its purpose is to educate parents about resources at the college to support student success. There are sections that explain a parent's limited access to a community college student's grades and records and a student's rights to review records under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The college coordinated with local public schools to host a parent information night for families of prospective students. It also implemented a new student orientation program to which parents were invited. According to Dean of Students Linda P. Woiwod, one-third of the new students were accompanied by their parents. Woiwod said that future "parent academies" would provide more in-depth information about the inner workings of the college.
In this video, founder of "From Lemons to Lemonade" Frechic Austin, Program Coordinator at The Women's Center of Lakeland Community College Mary Goss-Hill, and recent Lakeland graduate Crissy Brown discuss the importance of providing resources to Student Parents.
The Issue of Letting Go
Much has been written about the so-called "helicopter parents," who interfere inappropriately with a child's college experience. Community college officials admit that there are overzealous or overbearing parents of students in the community college system. Most parents, however, seem motivated by a genuine desire to be of assistance to their children during the transition.
The desire to "hold on" must be especially difficult for parents of community college students who live at home. Their home life may continue much the same as it was when the child was in high school. Even though college students, in general, don't have curfews, the parents of a community college student living at home may feel justified in continuing to enforce the same rules that applied during the high school years. But there will be a drastic change for both parents and child regarding education. First, the amount of time a parent spends daily in dealing with a high school student's education will be drastically reduced when a child begins community college. Also, much of the responsibility for areas such as selecting classes, planning schedules, completing homework, communicating with teachers, and grades is transferred from the parent to the student. If parents do not allow children to exercise responsibility for their community college education, then the children will likely be at a disadvantage when they transfer to a four-year institution or enter the workforce.
If having a community college student living at home proves too confrontational, on-campus housing is an option to consider. On-campus housing is offered at 240 public community colleges. Another option is for the student to share an apartment near campus with other students. In either case, the child is not living alone and the parents are close enough to offer assistance when needed.
Tips for Supporting a Student's Transition to College
Some or all of the following tips may be helpful in supporting a student's successful transition to college.
- Encourage students to make their own decisions, learn from their failures, and enjoy their successes.
- Encourage your student to get involved with campus activities, such as student government, athletics, drama, or debate.
- Don't pressure your student into declaring a major or choosing a career immediately.
- Encourage your student to meet with an academic advisor regularly for help in selecting courses.
- Support your student by understanding the stress that the student feels in adjusting to the new college environment.
- Ask about your student's classes and experiences.
- Understand that college is much more challenging than high school.
- When students experience problems, urge them to seek help immediately from the appropriate college resource.
This video offers some tips for surviving your first semester in college!
Ten Questions to Ask Community College Students
One of the tips for parents listed above is to ask students questions about their experiences at college. Even if your child fails to provide satisfactory answers, the fact that you asked the question may plant a seed in the child's mind that the subject of the inquiry is important. The following are examples of questions that parents who want to support their students in a community college may consider asking:
- Are you going to class?
- Are you studying at least 25 hours per week?
- Are you reviewing the material in each class weekly?
- Are you balancing study time with fun time?
- Do you know when the last day to withdraw from a class is?
- Are you starting your assignments early?
- Have you seen your advisor?
- Have you gone to your professors' office hours?
- Are you going to need any tutoring?
- Have you formed a study group?
Moving from high school to a community college requires a big adjustment. If a student gets off to a good start at a community college by working hard and taking advantage of the school's resources, he or she has a much better chance for completing the two years of community college and either transferring to a four-year institution or finding a good job. By becoming informed, showing support, and encouraging independence, parents can make a tremendous contribution to their child's successful community college experience.
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