As a first-generation college student and first-generation US citizen born Latina, my parents have always made it known that going to college was expected. Conversations with my parents around education always seemed to focus on one theme: “we came to this country for you and your sisters to do better, to be better, to have an education”. With this constantly on my mind, I accepted their expectation and made sure I had post-secondary education plans. However, I don’t think they were as prepared for that transition as I was.
Throughout my journey as a graduate student and soon-to-be Student Affairs professional, I have often wondered what the relationship between parents/family and a higher education institution should be. See, every student that chooses to obtain a post-secondary education is more or less prepared for the transition into higher education; students talk to counselors and go to orientations, they develop Facebook pages and find roommates. Yet the same preparation is not always available for parents. Do parents need this preparation? Yes. Do some parents need it more than others? Yes. Who should be tasked to help parents through this transition, high schools or higher education institutions? Great question.
While students wrap up their senior year of high school and begin to prepare for the next step in their education, parents should be doing the same. However, while students have teachers, counselors, and even college admission officers guiding their path, parents tend to not have many professionals to ask for guidance in this new transition. Although high school counselors can take on this task, they wouldn’t be able to provide the continued support for every parent once their student graduates. As such, I believe it is integral for higher education institutions to provide greater support for parents through the different stages of transitioning that occurs during the collegiate experience.
There are several institutions that have Family Relations offices. Yet, most of the time, these offices are reactive and have a staff of one or two professionals. Although this is a step in the right direction, it is not enough! Specifically, there is an abundance of proactive work that needs to take place. What would it look like for families to receive information about the college transition in accessible language? What would it look like for parents to know when high-stress parts of the semester are approaching and how that may affect their student? Family relations offices must become more proactive and easily accessible to parents of all backgrounds. When engaging parents in conversation about the transition into college, there is an opportunity to strengthen a student’s support network.
For many parents, trying to understand the college process alone is a challenge and in order to solve the confusion, parents seek professionals for answers. However, for many parents, it’s a struggle to even identify the questions they have. My parents always asked me questions about the next steps we needed to take in order to ensure I got into a school. Yet, they never asked what college would be like or the challenges I might face as a first-generation student. I truly don’t blame them for not knowing, because who was there to inform them of these possibilities? It is on us as student affairs professionals to engage in conversations about transitions, not only with students, but with parents and families as well. When doing so, we not only help answer questions and assure parents, we also strengthen the odds of a student being successful in their collegiate journey.
Magdalena Gracia (She/Her)
Loyola University Chicago, Class of 2016
University of Vermont, Class of 2018