Parent Involvement is the Clearest Predictor of College Access
The Texas Comprehensive CenterBriefing Paper on Parent and Community Involvement in a College/Career-Ready Culturenotes:
“The literature on parent and community involvement is extensive. However, there is little rigorous, experimental research; rather, the literature consists primarily of descriptive case studies or correlation studies, along with numerous studies involving survey data. The same holds true for research around development of career and college readiness. Furthermore, there is very little to be found on the combined topics of parent/community involvement, college/career readiness, and student achievement.”
Some of the key findings of available research indicate that students with involved parents, no matter what their income or background, are more likely to:
- Earn high grades and test scores and enroll in higher-level programs
- Pass their classes, earn credits, and be promoted
- Attend school regularly
- Graduate and go on to postsecondary education
- Although parental involvement is important through all the years of school, it changes as children develop; therefore, a student in middle or high school benefits from a different type of parental involvement than does an elementary school student
- the most consistent finding in studies of parental involvement was “the importance of parents’ educational aspirations for their children”
Similar research findings are reported in, Succeeding in the City: A Report from the New York City Black and Latino Male High School Achievement Study, where young men of color note the importance of parent expectations pertaining to their academic achievement:
- High expectations for school success were conveyed in myriad ways. Most common was parents’ dissatisfaction with grades they believed were unreflective of their children’s full potential.
- In several interviews, young men recalled how they felt good about earning 90% on tests, but their parents’ reaction was “why didn’t you get a hundred?”
- Some had proven their academic aptitude in elementary school, but their grades declined in middle school. Their parents refused to excuse this change and instead nagged the teens, found ways to get them tutor-ing and other forms of academic support, and punished them by taking away privileges they had come to enjoy.
- One young man recalled a pivotal moment in his academic trajectory. He started getting 70s and 80s on report cards, instead of the 90s he had consistently earned prior to middle school. His dad took him on a long car ride outside of the city to express two things: (1) how he believed the young man was capable of doing better; and (2) why B’s and C’s were unacceptable. Concerning the second point, the father told his son that he expected him to be someone great in life, to go to college; accordingly, mediocre grades would not get him there. That car ride resonated with this young man from that point onward.
- Others remembered specific things family members and others said to them at various junctures in their educational trajectories that helped them realize how great they were destined to be.
Despite these two research studies profiling students and parents in two different states (Texas and New York), parent expectations is an important component in the academic outcomes of their children. It is clear that parents should engage in:
- Communicating expectations for achievement and value for education
- Fostering educational and occupational aspirations
- Discussing learning strategies
- Preparing and planning for the future
To best ensure a successful transition to college or a career parents should:
- Know about college admission or career requirements so that they may appropriately guide their children’s courses and activities
- Understand student assessments that will allow them to track progress toward meeting the requirements
- Understand financial aid options
- Understand the application process
Cultivating home-school partnerships requires that educators understand that the lack of parental involvement of African-American, Hispanic, and low-income parents is not so much attributable to shortcomings of parents themselves as they are to structures and policies, which create invisible walls and inhibit interaction with schools such as:
- Inflexible work schedules
- Language barriers
- Lack of comfort with school staff
- Conditioned mistrust
Overcoming these barriers requires:
- Obtaining input from families regarding information and resources they need to support their children’s college aspirations
- Familiarizing families with services that provide academic support and college planning and provide these services in a family-friendly environment
- Ensuring that families from all cultural, social, linguistic, and community backgrounds are included in outreach efforts
- Partnering with faith-based, community organizations, and institutions of higher education to provide college planning and financial aid information
Research indicates that for low-income families, information on financial aid is extremely important, and parents need the information early in their child’s education so they can build and reinforce his or her aspirations to attend college.
Succeeding in the City: A Report from the New York City Black and Latino Male High School Achievement Study, notes that even schools that successfully cultivate college-bound cultures can lack sufficient insight and understanding of the full range of needs of students who will be the first in their families to attend college or who are living in high poverty communities:
- “This is like a small college,” one young man said of his high school. Others described college-going cultures that had been fostered in their respective buildings.
- There were poster-sized spreadsheets on a bulletin board in the guidance counselor’s office at East Bronx Academy for the Future that listed each graduating senior’s name in one column.
- Other columns were used to track whether students had taken the SAT; applied to CUNY, SUNY, and other postsecondary institutions; submitted the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), as well as applications for scholarships and other forms of financial aid (e.g., New York State’s Tuition Assistance Program); and had been accepted to college.
- Students received big checkmarks in each column after one of these college-related activities had been completed. Fascinating to us was that almost every student listed on the spreadsheet had a near-complete row of checkmarks next to her or his name.
- We also thought compelling that the spread-sheet was so large and so public. The guidance counselor explained that teachers, parents, and peers often interact with the bulletin board; if they see that a student has not done something on the list, they would ask (and some-times harass) her or him about it.
- In that same office was another bulletin board that included college-related terms and their definitions. Students who would be first in their families to attend college probably would not have other-wise known the meanings of certain terms on the bulletin board (i.e., early decision, AP course, FAFSA, TAP, EOP, HBCU, and Bursar’s Office), hence its importance.
- Participants at the 40 high schools frequently noted how teachers doubled as college advisors who offered assistance with the college choice process, admissions and scholarship applications, SAT prep, and financial aid documents.
- “Did you see the signs above the classrooms?” one young man asked. “We are encouraged to talk to teachers about where they went to college; they help
- Copies of college acceptance letters were stapled to bulletin boards and taped to walls in several other schools we visited.
However, although students at many schools are being inspired to pursue college, the report notes that even these schools are failing to provide students with pertinent information pertaining to financial aid and scholarships:
- Despite their academic performance, few participants planned to finance their college education via scholarships and merit-based awards.
- Although some expected to receive Pell Grants and awards from the New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), an alarming number of students planned to finance college through student loans and working off-campus jobs.
- We occasionally asked if they knew about the Gates Millennium Scholars Program, income threshold and no-loans financial aid policies at elite private colleges and universities, or the Posse Foundation’s scholars program (financial aid initiatives for which their grade point averages and socioeconomic statuses would likely qualify them); their answers were almost always no.
- One young man planned to simultaneously work full-time and be a full-time college student. Although his socioeconomic status would surely qualify him, he had never heard of on-campus employment opportunities via the Federal Work Study Program.
Schools must do more to foster a culture of high expectations, make parents feel welcomed, provide parents with the information and resources they need to encourage their children’s aspirations early during their schooling, and expose students to the wide range of scholarship and financial aid opportunities based on their gifts, talents, and family circumstances.