Parent services: Where we came from and where we’re going

What new programming should I consider for families? Am I charging too much for Family Weekend? How does my office budget compare to other parent offices? Is my office situated in the right division?

How do we learn about the family engagement field?
Some of our offices have been around for years, while others of us are brand new. No matter where you are in your career in family services, it’s likely you’ve had questions about your work and office structure and have wanted to learn more about what others are doing.

Since 2003, the National Survey of College and University Parent Programs has provided information about our field and its growth. At the survey’s inception, parent/family programming was a relatively new focus in higher education, with most services having been introduced within the previous decade. In that time, more and more programs have been established, family programming is more robust, and we have formed the only professional organization dedicated to parent and family involvement in the college experience: AHEPPP.

The information gathered in this survey is invaluable to AHEPPP and the field, but also to YOU as the professionals doing the work. How can this survey help you?

  • Do you need a new idea for a parent service? Check out what other universities are offering.
  • Are you unsure how to prioritize programming? Learn what your peers recognize as their most valuable services. 
  • Do you feel that your programming does not align with the goals of the area you report to? See how services look differently based on reporting structure. 
  • Are you advocating for more resources? Compare budget, titles, staff, and salaries across the field. 
  • Are you wondering what new trends you should be prepared for? Hear what other experts in the field have been hearing.
  • New in 2021: Want to learn how your COVID communications to parents compared to other institutions? Stay tuned for this year’s report! 

What did parent/family programming look like in 2003? 
A few findings from that first survey might surprise you:

How many of you would say that Family Weekend is a key part of your job?
In 2003, only 75% reported that their institution had a Family Weekend. If you think that sounds crazy, the report noted that only 25% had a Family Weekend in 1999!

How much of your summer is taken up by Family Orientation?
In 2003, 61% had a Family Orientation. 

How many emails do you get from parents each year?
In 2003, only 13% had a parent helpline. 

Your parent website: the first recommended stop for all questions.
In 2003, 8% had a parent website

Why do you work with parents?
In 2003, 35% noted that parent duties were assigned to them as part of another position. Today, most say they work in the field because they see value in parent involvement.

How much does one tent cost at Family Weekend in 2021?
In 2003, the lowest reported budget was $1,800.

Some things, however, never change, like this advice from 2003 survey participants, which you still hear at AHEPPP events today:  

“Help parents understand student development.”

“Remember that parents hear only one side, and it’s likely to be filtered and edited.”

“Collaborate whenever you can.”

“Sometimes you need thick skin.”

“Understand parents and listen.”

Want to know more about what the field looks like today? 

Help us continue this tradition by completing the 2021 survey by Friday, April 16. Results will be shared with the AHEPPP community. Your participation gives us valuable insights for program advocacy, serving families and benchmarking best practices. In completing the survey, you can choose to enter a drawing to win either:

  • A one-year membership to AHEPPP: Family Engagement in Higher Education (available for non-members)
  • AHEPPP swag (available for members)
  • A copy of the soon-to-be released book, College Ready: Expert Advice for Parents to Simplify the College Transition (available to all)


Dr. Chelsea Petree is the Director of Parent & Family Programs at Rochester Institute of Technology and the current Board of Directors President for AHEPPP: Family Engagement in Higher Education.

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