Parents and students are in closer contact than ever, and that bond has changed the college experience.
Note: The following is a short excerpt from the cover story of the On Wisconsin alumni magazine’s fall issue. To read the full article, which explores the historical narrative of parent involvement and how universities have responded, visit the On Wisconsin website. (A translated transcript of this story in Chinese is available upon request; please email email@example.com.)
Twenty-two. That’s not the number of favorite television episodes college students binge-watch in a week, Instagram photos they post in a day, or books they read during a given semester. That’s how often a recent study revealed they communicate with their parents during an average week.
Parents’ intimate involvement in their college students’ lives is a decidedly new phenomenon. In 2008, students and their parents averaged 13 contacts per week, according to ongoing research by Barbara Hofer, a psychology professor at Middlebury College. As recently as two decades ago, that number was typically one, often in the form of a costly, long-distance phone call on Sunday night.
By the time they get to campus, students have begun to view parents as their most trusted advocates and advisers. “The thing I’ve noticed more than the parents changing is the students changing,” says Wren Singer ’93, MS’95, PhD’01, director of undergraduate advising at UW–Madison. “Twenty years ago, the general observation I would have is that the parents wanted to be involved, but the students were kind of embarrassed. … Now students think of their parents as their best friends.”
Universities have recognized this special relationship and stepped in to help parents and students navigate the transition to college. At the UW, the nationally recognized Parent Program serves as a proactive messenger, helping parents understand what defines appropriate involvement. The program encourages parents to embrace their new role as mentors and coaches by pointing students toward resources readily available on campus to help them succeed.