It's mid-September, and across the country, the parents of
several million new college students have recently driven away from
a college campus after dropping off a son or daughter. Most of them,
one hopes, are at least reasonably satisfied that the institution
will challenge their child and deliver an appropriate level of care
and support when needed.
Yet have these same parents been informed of and had a chance to
ask questions about the most serious issues their child will
immediately face in adjusting to college?
If they have, it will be because they attended parents'
Experienced observers on American campuses have begun to notice a
new group of mothers and fathers emerging over the past two years.
Informally they're being called "helicopter parents" because of the
way they hover over their offspring well beyond the standard moment
to say goodbye.
In fact, one Boston-area dean of students describes them as the
carefully dressed couple who sit in the front row at the first
parent orientation session, who hold the dean's hand in any
reception line through at least three separate questions, and who
then sit in the back row at the first student orientation session.
On one occasion, a couple informed this dean - when they finally
did exit - that they had purchased a condominium "in the
neighborhood" to be able to monitor their daughter's progress more
effectively. Clearly, with parents like these hovering close at
hand, colleges and universities should consider themselves warned
that life both on and off campus is not what it used to be.
Why are these issues even being raised this fall? Because parents
have officially stepped forward as higher education's newest
constituency. Effective parent-orientation programs - increasingly
complex and comprehensive - are the first and most public steps in
acknowledging the importance of their interests. In fact, mothers
and fathers are arriving on campus with more serious questions than
ever before about the cost of higher education, and what their
child's school of choice is doing to earn their dollars.
Among high-profile institutions nationally, few have taken as
dramatic steps as has Northeastern University in Boston. Over the
past five years, to enhance its image, Northeastern has gone against
the grain and boldly recast itself, focusing on national prominence
In the mid-1980s, it registered over 30,000 full- and part-time
undergraduates; last year, the university enrolled a more
selectively chosen 18,000 undergraduates. Along the way, however,
many parents have had many questions about life on and off this
prominent urban campus. …