Helicopter Parents’ New Role: College Concierges

 

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Before college, we hung out at the beach without worry.

In two articles I read today in the Washington Post and MarketWatch brought up helicopter parents continuing their hovering into their kids’ college years and a recently published study was cited:

“The study published this month in the journal Sociology of Education by three social scientists — Laura Hamilton of the University of California at Merced, Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia and Kelly Nielsen of the University of California at San Diego — followed a group of female students (and their parents) from 41 families. The students lived on the same dorm floor at an unnamed prominent Midwest public university (some of Hamilton’s research on this same group of women was featured in her 2013 book with Elizabeth A. Armstrong called ‘Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality’).”

I read about this study in the Washington Post in an article called “Rich parents are serving as ’college concierges’ for their kids — and it’s fueling inequality,” by Jillian Berman. I found the anecdote at the beginning of her article especially interesting because the scenario was achingly familiar. My husband encouraged my daughter to attend an internship informational meeting her sophomore year held by Goldman Sachs. Unlike the kids who attended the meeting in the story, she was booted out, because they wouldn’t allow anyone except juniors and seniors.

 

“A few years ago, I attended an internship recruitment presentation by Goldman Sachs at the University of Pennsylvania. It was early in the fall semester, but the Wall Street investment bank was already focused on hiring interns for the following summer.

“After the 45-minute presentation ended, I found a small group of students huddled in the back of the ballroom munching on free food. I discovered they were sophomores who weren’t even eligible for the internship but had come to gather intelligence and get a head start for next year. When I asked them who had suggested they come, they all had the same answer: their parents.

“It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. It has been well-documented that the generation of schoolchildren who went to college in the last decade were raised by “helicopter parents” (who helped their children do everything) and “snowplow parents” (who removed all barriers in front of their children). The question was what would happen when they left their childhood home and went to college.

“A new study attempts to answer that question. It shows that hovering parents don’t stop once their kids go off to college, and that’s particularly true for affluent and upper middle-class parents. Such parents continue to help their children in college, the study found, because they “know the potential to make a misstep — and the costs of doing so — may be higher than before.”

Here’s some more info about the study in “Helicopter parents don’t stay at home when the kids go to college — they keep hovering” by Jeffrey J. Selingo from the article on MarketWatch:

“The research isn’t definitive, but it’s backed up by previous studies on the issue. It’s based on interviews with only 41 families of young women who lived on the same floor in a dorm at a major public university in the Midwest. But it helps paint a picture of the different resources available to students as they navigate college life. The study also indicates that the variation in resources affects students’ life post-college.

“Of the affluent families studied, 87% of parents served as what the researchers described as a “college concierge” for their daughters — talking with them regularly, guiding them to certain majors tutors and academic-focused clubs, providing them contacts for internships and jobs, and even helping to manage their admission into sororities.

“In contrast, just 33% of the less-affluent families were heavily involved in their daughters’ college careers, but it made little difference because they didn’t have the resources and connections to necessarily guide their daughters’ successfully. For example, one middle-class family pushed their daughter towards a law school with a shoddy reputation.

“Affluent parents often use their resources to ensure their children have a qualitatively better educational experience at every level,” said Laura Hamilton, a sociology professor at the University of California-Merced and one of the authors of the study. “Parents’ class backgrounds remain really salient for children’s success all the way through their experiences.”

These articles are common sense. Parents who are college graduates know the ins-and-outs having been there themselves. Kids who are the first generation in their family to go to college, of course, won’t get that help from their parents who are unfamiliar with the territory. I know that colleges, nor high schools, go out of their way to help students find tutoring or the right classes. It’s a shame that they don’t, but it’s a reality. It’s a reminder that regardless of socioeconomic status, kids need to be proactive and find out info and follow through for themselves.

Also, it may be a benefit to have parents who ‘concierge’ the way to a better college experience and outcome, but only if kids listen or follow advice! I told my son to see tutors all the time he was in a tough theoretical math major and we offered to pay. He says now he wished he would have listened to us about that–plus on what major he should graduate with. Now that he’s in the workforce and has the 20/20 hindsight, he realizes that mom and dad might have known something after all.

Another thought I have on this study is that yes, we are not all equal. The researchers are looking to universities to promote social equality and outcomes. It benefits a lot in the larger scope of things to have a college degree, but within that world, there are any number of majors, degrees and eventual career paths. Our kids are not all equal. No kidding. We cannot expect our children to have the same outcomes in college due not only to socioeconomic factors and parent involvement, but also interests, aptitude, skills, work ethic, and brain power.

My own two kids, who obviously come from the same two parents and socioeconomic means had two very different experiences in college. One listened to our advice, one did not. One had the comforts and privileges of being a D1 scholarship athlete, one did not. One is more academically inclined, while the other physical. Their experiences were both great, but also completely different.

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My college age kids.

What are your thoughts about these two articles and parents of the affluent ‘concierging‘ their kids through a better college experience?

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