When Consuelo Arellano got a postcard from South Texas College this summer about freshman orientation week for her daughter, it wasn't by accident. The notice advised Arellano, a mother of two adult children, that student attendance was mandatory and that parents should attend.
The unusual request for parental participation was part of a stepped-up effort by the predominantly Hispanic community college in McAllen to enhance the retention and graduation prospects for its first-generation college students by making the college experience more of a family affair from the beginning.
Such parent orientations are not unusual at four-year schools, but the strategy is fairly new for open-access institutions that serve such disparate constituents as first-time undergraduates and adult learners. Like their four-year counterparts, community colleges focus on college completion, experts say, and South Texas is among those colleges that discovered the importance of demystifying the higher education process for Latino parents who've never traveled that path.
"It's a really good strategy. Trying to bring the parents in early on is important," says Dr. Patricia Gandara, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles. She recalls a student survey that indicated the top impediment to keeping Hispanic students in the college pipeline was a lack of information for parents who influence students' college-going decisions. "'Can you please give this information to my parents?' was the leading request of respondents," Gandara says.
Emily Calderon, director of research at the San Antonio-based Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, says that research documenting the value of parental involvement with their children in grades K-12 suggests it would probably work in many situations at the college level.
"It would be great if we could replicate this," Calderon says of the South Texas program.
The "First Year Connection" orientation, now in its third year, has turned into a real drawing card at South Texas, attracting this past summer more than 900 family members and some 3,000 students, the school reported.
"It was good," Arellano says of the near three-hour session she attended. "I got a lot of information on how my child is preparing for school. We need to be more involved in the education of our children," she says, adding that some parents of first-generation college students don't have a good understanding of what college is all about. …