The Retention Challenge—Should We Include Parents?

University campuses continue to see an increase in the number of helicopter parents, those parents who are hovering about the campus, ready to swoop down and rescue their children at the first sign of distress (Cartmell and McCullough 2014). Retention personnel on campus questioned whether it would be possible to develop initiatives that would intentionally guide parents in ways that help increase freshman retention rates. Research has been done and shown that students’ parents can serve as a safety net for their freshmen, increasing the students’ willingness to take on greater academic and social challenges (Kalsner and Pistole 2003). The difficulty for college campuses is how to capitalize on the untapped resource and determine whether it aids in greater retention and success of freshman students.

Attachment theory is the basis for an innovative retention initiative that was developed at The University of Tennessee at Martin, which seeks to provide a landing pad for helicopter parents who want to be involved during their students’ first year. Incoming freshman parents are encouraged to take advantage of an online parent portal that contains academic resources and information about their child’s college performance. The information provided on the portal is intended to help parents begin conversations with their students about how to succeed in the college arena. To measure the effectiveness of the initiative, a sample of 300 first-time, full-time freshmen from the fall 2012 entering freshman class was analyzed. Data were evaluated looking for student retention differences, as well as differences in the end-of-first-year grade point averages. Correlations were found between parent involvement and freshman retention, as well as grade point averages. Interestingly, the research also showed that there appears to be a point of diminishing returns associated to the amount of parental involvement.

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