Assessment of the Utility of Parents as Sources of Information about the College Decisions of Their Children

By Pratt, Phillip; Evans, David | College and University, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Assessment of the Utility of Parents as Sources of Information about the College Decisions of Their Children


Pratt, Phillip, Evans, David, College and University


Abstract This study to determine how useful the information provided by parents might be about why their children enrolled at other schools. Parents and matriculating students responded to identical survey items about the college selection process. Analysis of paired responses indicated that parent and student perceptions of the college selection process were inconsistent to conclude that parents' information would be useful in understanding their children's decision to attend other schools.

As our institution has considered strategies to improve its yield (the proportion of students whom are accepted for admission who actually enroll), we thought it would be useful to determine why students we accept for admission choose to attend elsewhere. For years we had obtained survey data from new freshmen matriculating at our institution about why they selected our school. But we have had almost no information from students whom we accepted who did not enroll.

Unfortunately, our surveys of `no-shows' typically have resulted in very low response rates (in the vicinity of 10 to 12 percent). We speculated there were two reasons. First, obtaining the new school addresses of these students was very difficult. Mailed surveys sent to their homes were probably not always forwarded to the students by their parents. Second, we guessed that the motivation of such students to complete a questionnaire coming from a `rejected institution,' if they did receive it, was low.

However, we reasoned that contacting the parents of students whom our institution accepted for admission, but who chose to attend elsewhere, would be relatively easy. We speculated further that parents of these students likely would have the information we sought concerning their child's decision to attend another institution and that they would be more willing than their son or daughter to complete a mailed survey (or to answer questions in a telephone interview).

One question remained: To what extent were parents reliable sources of information about their children's decision to select a school other than ours? The research literature concerning the value of contacting parents to assess the reasons for their children selecting one institution versus others did not provide a clear answer.

Bowers and Pugh (1973) offered early insight into the congruence between parents' and students' placement of importance on various institutional attributes that affect college choice. The authors wanted to find out the various reasons parents and students chose a large public university in Indiana. Additionally, the authors sought information concerning the degree of importance students and parents placed on the cited institutional attributes. The authors had parents and students in their freshman year of college complete the same questionnaire containing 22 reasons likely to be considered in the college selection process, and asked participants to rate institutional attributes using a scale of "no importance," "minor consideration," and "major consideration." Usable responses were obtained from approximately 80 percent of the 4,841 entering freshmen, totaling 4,215 acceptable responses. Usable responses were obtained from approximately So percent of 6,365 parents, totaling 2,941 acceptable responses. Significant similarities (p < .01) were found among parents and students for attributes that required major consideration. These included academic reputation, specific department reputation, and tuition cost.

Murphy (1981) demonstrated similar findings when students ranked academic reputation as the primary attribute affecting college choice. Additionally, Bowers and Pugh (1973) found significant similarities among parents and students for attributes that involved no importance. These included geographic location of the institution, advice from alumni, and financial assistance.

The findings of the study conducted by MacDermott, Conn, and Owen (1987) contrasted with the findings of Bowers and Pugh (1973) in terms of attributes that were of major importance in college selection among parents and students. …

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