Are Campus Offices Prepared to Work Collaboratively with Families?
By Chelsea Petree and Janine Rowe
Career development practitioners on college campuses may find working with parents and family members challenging. Lack of specific training, the need to maintain confidentiality, time or resource constraints, and personal biases can contribute to negative outcome expectations regarding engagement with families. However, research suggests that students have better educational outcomes when families play a supportive role in their education (Simmons, 2008). By avoiding engagement with families, career development practitioners neglect a valuable source of information and encouragement for students. Ideally, career services offices would collaborate intentionally with families to draw them into the career development process and help yield positive outcomes for all involved.
Theory and Practice
Family and human development theories lay a foundation for understanding the close contact between students and parents. Family Systems Theory asserts that all family members’ lives are interconnected and impacted by all other members, even when a child moves away for college (Whitchurch & Constantine, 1993). Societal factors further explain why the connection between college students and their families may be so strong, including parent contributions to the rising cost of higher education, available virtual communication technology, standards in many K-12 schools that mandate parental involvement, and relevant national tragedies, such as the increased incidences of school shootings. Millennial and Generation Z college students are often connected with their parents more closely than previous generations and trust the advice of their parents more than other sources (Simmons, 2008). Moreover, students who relied on their parents for assistance reported greater satisfaction with their undergraduate experience and more engagement with coursework (National Survey of Student Engagement, 2007). Generation Z college students are also likely to agree with the statement “my parent is my best friend” (Willoughby, 2016).
The history of higher education professionals’ concerns about intrusive parenting began in the early 1980s (Horowitz, 1987), and negative descriptors of college parents continue today. What is often left out of the literature is that students often have a desire for parental involvement and do reach out for support from home. For example, the authors’ research found that 16% of Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) students contacted parents before other resources with questions about career planning. Staff may also lack understanding on how culture influences the relationship between parent and student; in some cultures, a collective familial unit expects that decisions are made together. In fact, many career development theories specifically explore the role of family influence on career development. Super, Bowen, Harris-Bowlsbey, Krumboltz, and Blustein all emphasize that career choice and satisfaction are inextricably linked with family influence and expectations. Current career development practice may not fully embrace the role of family influence, with many counselors demonstrating a preference to view clients as individuals who act on their own (Chope, 2012). Practical barriers to engaging families with the career counseling process are numerous, including lack of administrative support and specific counselor training, tools that do not incorporate family influence, limited resources, and legal mandates to maintain students’ confidentiality. The result is that parents are often treated as a burden, rather than an asset, to support students’ development.
Building Intentional Collaborations
More universities today are proactively emphasizing the important role parents play in students’ lives by dedicating staff—or an entire office—to bridge the gap between parents and the institution. RIT established its Parent & Family Programs office in 2015. This office educates parents about campus resources, the student experience, and the important role families play in student retention. In order to support all aspects of student life, campus partnerships are essential to parent communications, and one such partnership developed at RIT between Parent & Family Programs and the Office of Career Services and Cooperative Education.
RIT is an institution that emphasizes career education, experiential learning, and working towards successful post-graduate outcomes. A survey of RIT parents, however, found that while they name career development information as a high priority, they also rated their knowledge of resources as “low” and frequently requested more access to internship and job-related resources. The collaboration has included the addition of career-focused parent polls, increased communications to parents (in a regular Parent Newsletter and a special-edition Second Year Parent Newsletter, which focused largely on career and co-op resources), and more communication between offices regarding questions, events, and opportunities. Future plans on this front include assessing current efforts and impact, finding ways to highlight student and family stories in publications, and considering volunteer opportunities for parents and families, like shadowing and mock interviews.
Recommendations for Engagement
Based on a successful partnership on the RIT campus, here are a few recommendations for other career practitioners who may want to start or improve similar connection opportunities to benefit students and their families:
1. Schedule regular communications between offices. Meeting or at least communicating regularly raises awareness of career events and services that can be directly shared with parents. It can also lead to best-practice conversations on how to work with parents and families.
2. Use survey or polls to collect information and feedback from your parent population. Collecting data from parents helps career services to better understand the parent perspective. Questions may relate to how involved family members want to be (or think they are already) in their students’ career choice, what they think contributes most to their student securing a job or internship, how concerned they or their student are currently about finding a best-fit career path, and what kinds of questions their student ask them about career options, job/internship search, etc.
3. Engage in positive marketing. Highlight your career center’s activities through a family newsletter, social media posts, and/or postcards home.
4. Incorporate into student advising. Encourage students to understand and value their family’s influence on their career development by introducing family genogram or career autobiography activities.
5. Host specific events. Plan special programs from career services at new student or transfer orientation, family weekend, and/or graduation to intentionally interface with families.
While RIT has the benefit of an office solely focused on outreach to families, career services offices at universities who may not have this specific resource can still implement the above recommendations by collaborating with other offices with a more direct line to parents (e.g., admissions or residence life), or by creating their own parent programming and communications plan.
Generational and cultural shifts mean that college students are connected with their families more closely than in previous generations. Career Services offices can work together with related campus offices to leverage parents’ energy and advocacy on behalf of their student. By providing information and opportunities to engage with Career Services, parents can serve as valuable partners in their student’s career development.
Chope, R. C. (2012). Family matters: The intertwining of the family with career decision making. Chelsea, MI: Counseling Outfitters.
Horowitz, H. (1987). Campus life: Undergraduate cultures from the end of the eighteenth century to the present. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
National Survey of Student Engagement. (2007). Experiences that matter: Enhancing student learning and success. 2007 Annual Report. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research and Planning.
Simmons, A. (2008). A reliable sounding board: Parent involvement in students’ and career decision making. NACADA Journal, 28(2), 134-138.
Whitchurch, G. G., & Constantine, L. L. (1993). Systems theory. In P. G. Boss, W. J. Doherty, R. LaRossa, W. R. Schrumm, & S. K. Steinmetz (Eds.), Sourcebook of family theories and methods: a contextual approach (pp. 325-352). New York: Plenum Press.
Willoughby, L. (2016). Meet Gen Z: Amplified millenials. Retrieved from: https://greenbookblog.org/2016/11/04/meet-gen-z-amplified-millennials/
Janine Rowe, MSEd, is a career counselor and Assistant Director of Disability & Career Services at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY. Her passions include teaching, advocating for neurodiverse-affirming employment practices, and creative approaches to counseling. She is a part of the Neurodiverse Hiring Initiative at RIT, which works to support neurodiverse students in achieving their employment goals. She is an adjunct instructor at Medaille College in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program. She is the winner of the New York State Career Development Association (NYSCDA) Early Career Professional award (2014) and the RIT Presidential Award for Excellence (2018). Janine is a member of NCDA’s Counselor Education Academy, NCDA’s Leadership Academy, and served as Vice-President of NYSCDA from 2016-2018. She is currently President of NYSCDA. Janine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Chelsea Petree, Ph.D. has worked with parents of college students since 2009. In 2015, she moved to Rochester, NY to establish the Parent & Family Programs office at Rochester Institute of Technology. She is the President-Elect for AHEPPP: Family Engagement in Higher Education, a national organization that supports professionals in promoting the student-family-university relationship. Additionally, she has been nationally recognized for her research and innovative programming for parents and families and has presented at conferences for organizations representing student affairs, mental health, learning abroad, and emerging adulthood. Chelsea received her Ph.D. in Family Social Science from the University of Minnesota in 2013 with an emphasis on parent-college student relationships. Chelsea can be reached at email@example.com.