6 Effective Summer Strategies for Family Engagement

Summer is a pivotal time for colleges and universities to engage with their students' families. With the right communications strategy, schools can cultivate a sense of belonging, keeping families informed while building trust and supporting student success.


In a recent webinar, we spoke with Stephanie Stiltner, Director of Family and New Student Connections at the University of Pikeville, and Alex Hersperger, Student Affairs Coordinator at Texas A&M University, who shared their expert insights on crafting a successful summer communications plan for college families. 


Drawing from their extensive experience, they discussed key strategies and best practices for keeping families engaged, informed, and supported during the crucial summer months. The following are their takeaways and recommendations for developing an effective summer communications strategy.


Understanding the Importance of Summer Communications


School might be out for summer, but that doesn’t mean your communication strategy should take a beach vacation. The summer months provide families with the necessary info to prepare them for the new academic year ahead. 


An effective communication plan can:

  • Keep families engaged and informed about important dates, deadlines, and campus news.
  • Provide support and resources to help families prepare for the upcoming academic year.
  • Strengthen the institution and the family relationship, fostering a sense of community and belonging.
  • Strengthen retention for current students and lessen the likelihood of summer melt for first-time, first-year students.


Best Practices for Engaging Families Over the Summer


1. Segment Your Audience

Different families have different needs and concerns. 


Stiltner emphasizes the importance of hyper-segmenting your audience to tailor your messages effectively. Consider categorizing families based on factors such as:

  • Incoming first-year students vs. returning students
  • On-campus vs. off-campus living arrangements
  • In-state vs. out-of-state families

By segmenting your audience, you can ensure each group receives relevant and timely information. 


For example, U Pikeville starts communication with incoming families once students sign up for their summer orientation program, called GROWL, and continues until move-in.


2. Use Multiple Channels

Hersperger highlights the need to use multiple communication channels to reach families effectively. Things like:

  • Emails: Regular newsletters and updates. Texas A&M sends weekly emails from mid-May to the end of July.
  • Text messages: For urgent updates and reminders.
  • Webinars and virtual meetings: To provide interactive sessions on various topics.

The University of Pikeville also offers Zoom Q&A sessions with housing to provide an interactive platform for families to engage.


Using a mix of channels ensures that your messages reach families where they are most comfortable and likely to engage. 


3. Provide Clear and Concise Information

Parents not only appreciate clear and concise information, but 70% expect communication at least weekly — even more so during the busy summer months. 


Stiltner recommends keeping messages brief and to the point, breaking down messages with bullet points and headings for easy readability, and providing links to additional resources for those who want more information.


Clear communication helps families quickly find and understand the information they need. Pikeville's drip messages focus on various campus resources and are available bi-weekly.


4. Highlight Important Dates and Deadlines

Summer is a critical time for preparing for the upcoming academic year. 


Hersperger stresses the importance of reminding families about key dates and deadlines. Students often have a hard enough time checking their emails, let alone remembering upcoming important dates, and regular reminders help families and their students feel prepared for the start of the semester. 


Texas A&M offers a Parent and Family Resource Guide & Calendar, available in both English and Spanish, which is a valuable tool for keeping families informed.


5. Share Resources and Support

August is when families are most engaged, and so is one of your best opportunities to set parent expectations. Starting the school year can be stressful, but providing families with resources and support can ease the transition to the new academic year.


Stiltner suggests sharing various guides and checklists for families preparing for the journey to college. They also share information about campus services and resources, and tips for supporting their students' academic and personal growth.


Not only does The University of Pikeville print these resources and guides for their families, but they live on their website for easy accessibility. 


6. Foster a Sense of Community

Creating a sense of community among families can enhance their connection to the institution. Texas A&M offers an entire Family Track at their student orientation, which includes things like:

  • Virtual meet-and-greet sessions for families to connect.
  • Sharing stories and testimonials from current students and families.
  • Encouraging families to join parent and family associations or groups.

Building a community helps families feel more connected and invested in their students' success. 


Other Best Practices

Develop a Communication Calendar

Planning your family communications can ensure consistency and thoroughness. Create an annual communication calendar that outlines when and how you will reach out to families. Consider providing a mix of logistical and more supportive content — what do families need to do during a particular month, and what do they need to understand about their students’ experience during that time?


Collaborate with Campus Partners

Parent and family programs do not need to handle the workload alone. Connections with various campus departments can enhance your communications strategy. Partner with offices like admissions, financial aid, housing, student affairs, or student success to amplify their messaging and create consistent messaging for your families. 


Evaluate and Adjust

Regularly evaluate the effectiveness of your communications strategy. Use metrics such as open rates, click-through rates, and survey feedback — as well as how reminders on task-related items actually move the needle — to assess what’s working and needs improvement. Be prepared to adjust your strategy based on this data.



Creating a summer communications strategy for families is essential for maintaining engagement and supporting student success. 


By segmenting your audience, using multiple channels, providing clear information, highlighting important dates, sharing resources, fostering community, and engaging in two-way communication, you can build strong trust and connection with families and their students at every stage of their academic journey.

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