TIME Education

How To Help Low-Income Parents Talk To Their Kids About College

How to pay for college was the top concern for most parents.

A follow up on yesterday’s post on the Brilliant Blog about first generation college students: In newly-presented research, education professor Ronald Hallett shares what he discovered through designing and implementing a program intended to encourage high school students who would be the first in their families to attend university.

Hallett, of the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., designed the five-week summer program for underserved and underperforming Stockton students in partnership with local school district administrators. Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, said that one of the keys to the success of the program was empowering parents who hadn’t gone to college themselves to talk to their sons and daughters about the importance of higher education. As described on the website ScienceDaily:

“Students attended three-hour sessions three days a week, exploring college websites, visiting college campuses and learning about college entrance requirements. The program also included family information meetings and gave parents weekly themed activity packets to help them lead conversations about preparing for college. At the end of each conversation, parents and students together drafted specific goals. The goals were incorporated into a family action plan at the end of the program.”

Hallett used the program, called Creating Opportunities Via Education, as a laboratory for testing and refining approaches to empower parents to guide their kids on the path to college. Among the lessons learned:

• How to pay for college was the top concern for most parents.
• Parents were reluctant to encourage their children to pursue a goal that might be unattainable; they first needed assurance that college could be financially feasible.
• Large group presentations overwhelmed parents. Individualized attention and guidance better satisfied the complex information needs of low-income families.
•Parents preferred hard-copy written information to emails and blogs, and felt more empowered when information was delivered directly to them rather than sent home via students.
• Parents were more engaged when they helped their student write a college action plan versus reviewing one developed by the student.
•When given effective tools to help underserved and underperforming students prepare for college, parents use them.

“There is a common perception that low-income parents don’t care about college, but it’s not true,” says Hallett. “The parents we worked with really wanted to be engaged in their kids’ educational pursuits.”

Annie Murphy Paul is the author of the forthcoming book Brilliant: The Science of How We Get Smarter. Read more at her blog, where this post first appeared.

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