How Parents are Reshaping College

lead_960.jpgAfter Jonah got his acceptance letter to college, we thought we reached the parenting finish line. Woot! Victory lap! High fives! Margaritas for all!

And then I started talking to people. I was a little surprised about what I found out. So, I wrote an article.

Stacy G.’s daughter was having a meltdown. Her daughter, a sophomore at a prestigious private college, wanted an internship at Boston Children’s Hospital, a plum job that would look great on her applications to graduate school. After four weeks of frantically waiting for the school to arrange for an interview at the hospital, Stacy called her daughter’s adviser at the internships office to complain.

“For $65,000 [in full attendance costs], you can bet your sweet ass that I’m calling that school … If your children aren’t getting what they’ve been promised, colleges are going to get that phone call from parents,” Stacy said. “It’s my money. It’s a lot of money. We did try to have her handle it on her own, but when it didn’t work out, I called them.”

More here



35 thoughts on “How Parents are Reshaping College

  1. It is mentioned, but I think the article gives insufficient attention to what I would consider a major factor in greater parental involvement and interaction with the university, namely, that a higher percentage of parents are themselves college graduates. When I was in college, I knew that calling in my parents was the best way to get what I wanted from the administration. Nowadays, more and more students and parents know that.


    1. For one thing, long distance used to be SO expensive.

      I was a dutiful daughter/granddaughter, and my phone bills were ENORMOUS.


      1. Yes. And universities had a racket with the phone system so it was even more than the standard, expensive rates. Of course, my parents would usually call me back on their own dime after I called them.


      2. I remember long distance. But luckily my parents were of the super thrifty WW2 generation. They were uncomfortable with running up bills. Once the initial homesickness wore off I talked to them once every other week.
        I once had to appeal a grade and my friends with college educated parents told me to involve my parents. My mom was horrified at the idea of talking to a professor. “I can’t talk to them with my English.” Her English was fine. She was a secretary back in the day where they had to know grammar and spelling. She just didn’t think she was their equal.


      3. Wow, my parents did not have that attitude. They considered teachers at all levels, including university professors, as inferior intellects who couldn’t get real jobs. Maybe more parents feel that way today.


      4. My parent had a phd and considered teachers at all levels his intellectual equal — he had an area of expertise, but so did they. I feel the same way.

        And I even defend the lawyers, who are considered intellectually inferior by nearly every engineer and physicist and biologist and physician I know. I find a surprising number of lawyers who seem to feel that way about themselves.


  2. Good article, and strangely, the first comments aren’t toxic, but are contributing to the conversation.

    I’d like to see analysis of the characteristics of the students and parents who are more v less involved. Say, for example, is there a correlation between the amount paid and the parent college interactions?

    I talk to my parents multiple times a week now, but would have been horrified at the thought as a 18 year old. Communication is changing though; I wonder what will feel natural with my own kids.


  3. This article is really staying up high on the “Popular” list. In addition to good writing, I suspect that reading “other people are more tense and irritating than me” is going to be a popular genre as Gen X becomes worse at doing middle age with dignity than the Boomers were.


    1. Well, the big point of jail is to protect the rest of us. I’m not sure that putting his sorry ass in the slammer is going to change his behavior much, and it would cost us fifty grand a year to do it.


      1. Protecting girls from him is the point. He is a predator and has already had multiple passes. When the original scandal broke, there was talk of him being set up because a conservative group had been warning young women about him. Do you really believe texting is all he has done? He won’t stop.


  4. I am both hating these parents, and am kind of afraid that my kids will be ill-treated if I’m out of step with the trend. But I have been strategically neglecting the both of them for ages already, so they’re either hypercompetent or traumatized. I should figure out which.


  5. It’s interesting to witness the outcomes of different versions of parenting. Support is also control, though. When does it end?

    _Paying for the Party_ opened my eyes to how things such as helping a child find housing in a good labor market (New York, Austin, etc.), can pay long-term dividends. But surely there’s a point at which the adult children have to make their own way?

    I’m hearing stories of juvenile behavior from college graduates. Is it more common than in the past, at least in some families, because the young adults haven’t had experience as adults? But then again, is it only the parents at fault, or do some things, like technology, make it harder to become an adult?


    1. Paying for the Party was an absolutely splendid book. When do adult children make their own way? I know a woman in her early 60s who is getting a monthly subvention from her mother… and my wife’s cousin, when he began his work as an executor for his mother, found that his sister had been getting a monthly payment as well. This is not sustainable! My brother-in-law says in his view one of the biggest things upper middles and upper uppers provide for their children is second chances (and third, and fourth). So, yah, “parenting finish line. Woot! Victory lap! High fives! Margaritas for all!” Dream on.
      I will say that as a bachelor 30 years ago I was surprised at the young women I met who were getting rent top-up from their parents, this in Boston-Cambridge. So I’m not convinced of the newness of this phenomenon.


    2. I recall plenty of juvenile behavior from college graduates when I was in my 20s. (Including plenty from me.) I see no evidence that there’s been much change there.

      Financial support from parents has been a feature of UMC life for generations. My mother received an allowance from her father for her entire life, and he also paid for my parents’ apartment. It doesn’t seem like a superior strategy to leave a large estate to your children when they are in their 50s rather than helping them out when they are in their 20s and 30s. That said, my father was an associate and then a partner in a big New York law firm, and my mother was raising three children: neither of them was living at home in the basement, or going bar-hopping every night. Again, I’m not sure that such parental support has gotten more common.


      1. y81 said:

        “.It doesn’t seem like a superior strategy to leave a large estate to your children when they are in their 50s rather than helping them out when they are in their 20s and 30s.”

        Or, God forbid, when the “kids” are in their 70s.

        I suppose it might still be helpful for the “kids'” old age, but I think you’re right that you get a lot more bang for your buck out of targeted help in the 20s and 30s.


      2. Somewhat related–I believe there’s a tradition in my family (which is long-lived) of giving generation-skipping inheritances. So, grandma and grandpa would give or leave property to their grandparents, but not their children.

        It’s a very practical way to go when you’re probably going to live to 90+ and the “kids” don’t really need help.


  6. When I was in academia (not so long ago) I would get phone calls or email from parents all the time. My response was always the same: “Your son/daughter is an adult and I am prevented by law and university rules from discussing him/her with anyone else. If he/she has a concern then I am happy to speak with them and I encourage them to get in touch with me to set up an appointment.” Worked every time, usually with the parent calling up the kid and yelling at them to go to my office.

    When did academics stop doing this?


    1. I haven’t! This happened to me recently and I did pretty much what you said!

      Btw, an episode from the new season of Kimmy Schmidt has been viciously lampooning college culture, with a bunch of cheap shots but a few genuine hits. Bonus: Daveed Diggs guest stars.


      1. Since I am at a state directional university, parents almost never get in touch, but I did have to use the FERPA response last semester. The only extended contact I had was many years ago, my first year of teaching, when I was adjuncting at a very fancy liberal arts college and one of my students plagiarized and then lied about it. I turned it over directly to the dean (as was that school’s policy), he got an F and I think a suspension, and his parents wrote a letter about how he was completely innocent and had just turned in the wrong draft and I was terrible for having filed charges. I told them if he would waive his FERPA rights I’d send a letter explaining the whole thing to them, which I did. It was three pages long and it spelled out the whole charge in great detail, including exactly the procedure I had followed. (I would never do that today – too much time and energy – but this was my first plagiarism case and it really upset me to think that these parents thought their son had been treated badly.)


  7. Speaking of plagiarism, can you believe that David Clarke got away with that in an M.A. thesis at the Naval Postgraduate School?


  8. Anyone else read this?

    “. . . generation is spending more money on our grandchildren, 64 percent more than grandparents did just 10 years ago, doling out, for instance, roughly $4.3 billion a year on primary and secondary school tuition. ” based on a book by Leslie Stahl about her grand parenting years? It at least cites a trend (64% more, though I have no idea what that calculation is, and it sounds like a marketing stat for those who plan on selling to grandparents). I heard a stat somewhere about K-12 tuition, and that 20% of grandparents are contributing to tuition.

    I think that Y81 has something in referencing UMC parents who used to transfer wealth years ago, too. I think part of what we might be seeing is an extension of the increase in monetary wealth concentrated in the UMC (or probably more appropriately, rich, or 1%). Also, isn’t there a reporter trend on the increasing wealth of the older versus younger generation now? I think parents who are backstopping their kids have more wealth now and think they might as well share it. Sending a stipend that is basically part of would have been an inheritance, because you are older, they are older, and the wealth disparity is greater is a UMC behavior that is trickling down to other levels of wealth. The problem is when parents are supporting their kids at the expense of their own futures (which I’m guessing happens, too, but its not all the same).


    And, my own parents, though not UMC have provided a lot of time. Actually, monetizing, since they effectively made a nanny unnecessary for about at least 5 years of my kids’ life, and we had previously paid a nanny about 40K, it might be reasonable to estimate a $200K time transfer to us, which is pretty big chunk of money.


    1. BTW, when I say UMC, I don’t mean the 1%, I mean more like the 14% below the 1%. Something like household income of $100,000 to $400,000. The 1% I call “rich.”


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