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Five important college enrollment messages to send to high school students’ parents—right now!

By David Brond, Elizabeth Cohen and Linda McAleer

Multiple articles have been written about the important role parents play in their child’s college decision. Most higher education marketers and enrollment professionals agree that a parent’s powerful influence in guiding high school students throughout the college application and admission process is often unmatched by any other person.

Reaching the parent channel early and often, with the right message—from initial search through admissions deposit and welcoming them to the campus—is critical for successful college and university enrollment efforts.

Though much has been written recently about colleges’ planning for Fall 2020, very little attention has been focused on the impact of COVID-19 on parents’ attitudes regarding college planning. To provide insight into what parents are thinking, and how it may differ from what their children think, the Melior Group conducted an online survey of 450 respondents in the Philadelphia MSA in May 2020. Based on the findings from parents of rising high school juniors and seniors who plan to earn a bachelor’s degree and student prospects themselves, we suggest that colleges and universities focus their messaging on five critical issues:

Percent of Responsents MORE LIKELY to chart.

Click to enlarge.

  1. Your child can earn a degree close to home (i.e., without much travel). For example, over one-third of parents (36%), versus one-quarter of high school students, are more interested than they were pre-COVID in seeing their children remain in the Philadelphia area for college.
  2. A college education is important for future life success and remains financially worth it. The COVID-19 situation has heightened concerns about the high cost of college. Nearly half of all parents (43%) say they are factoring cost into college decision-making more now than they did before COVID-19.
  3. We are taking all appropriate precautions to provide a safe and healthy environment for students. Campus safety is always a leading concern among parents, for a variety of reasons. COVID-19 has introduced an entirely new set of worries, and over half of all parents (58%) say they are listening more closely than they would have pre-COVID to the steps that colleges and universities are taking to keep their communities safe.
  4. We provide both on-campus and online learning options for students. Parents are more likely than students to be patient with colleges as they figure out how to safely deliver face to face education. Nearly half of parents (43%) say they would be “very willing” for their child to begin their education online, versus only 25% of high school students who feel that way.
  5. We prepare students to find employment when they graduate. Over four in 10 parents (41%) say that in this era of COVID-19, they are more interested than they were previously in seeing their child select a major that will lead to a job right after graduation.

While the results of this study should reassure colleges and universities that most parents are willing to ride out the uncertainties of the upcoming academic year with their children’s college of choice, educational institutions should be on notice. Anxiety about health and safety, cost, and return on investment of a college degree is higher than ever, and parents need to feel confident that a college degree is a safe and smart investment in their child’s future.

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