College leaders know that parents have great influence on their children’s college decision-making. Even before COVID-19, outreach to parents—from initial search through admissions deposit and welcoming them to the campus—was a cornerstone of successful college and university enrollment efforts.
In the COVID-19 era, the importance of communicating with parents is more important than ever. Yet in reoperning plans there has been little focus on how COVID-19 has impacted the higher-education intentions of students and families. To provide insight into what parents are thinking, and how it may differ from what their children think, the Melior Group conducted an online survey of 450 respondents in the Philadelphia metropolitan statistical area in May 2020. Based on the findings from parents of college-bound rising high school juniors and seniors, and student prospects themselves, we suggest that colleges and universities focus their messaging on five critical issues:
- Your child can earn a degree close to home (i.e., without much travel). Over one-third of parents (36%), versus one-quarter of high school students, are more interested than they were pre-COVID in seeing their children remain in the area for college. La Salle University developed a “Closer to Home” message targeted to local students and parents. The key message is that La Salle provides Philadelphia-area students the opportunity to have the traditional college experience of being away, but still close enough to get home if needed.
- A college education is more important than ever for future success and is worth the investment. The COVID-19 situation has heightened concerns about the high cost of college—particularly given the changed financial circumstances of many families. Nearly half of all parents (43%) say they are factoring cost into college decision-making more now than they did before COVID-19.
- We are taking all precautions to provide a safe and healthy environment for students. Campus safety is always a leading concern among parents. COVID-19 has introduced an entirely new set of worries, and over half of all parents (58%) say they are listening more closely than they would have pre-COVID to the specific plans and protocols in place to keep their children safe. Throughout the development of La Salle’s return-to-campus plan, covering all health and safety protocols, the university regularly communicated with families through their parent portal.
- We have used the summer to figure out how to deliver best-in-class education online even as we prepare for face-to-face learning. Parents are more likely than students to be patient with colleges as they figure out how to safely deliver on campus education. Nearly half of parents (43%) say they would be “very willing” for their child to begin their education online, versus only 25% of high school students who feel that way.
- We prepare students to find employment when they graduate. Over four in 10 parents (41%) say that in this era of COVID-19, they are more interested than they were previously in seeing their child select a major that will lead to a job right after graduation. Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce recently published a study that showed the value of a La Salle degree is among the best in the nation. La Salle quickly got the message to market, and as a result was featured in a front-page story in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
While the results of Melior’s study should reassure colleges and universities that most parents are willing to ride out the uncertainties of the current academic year with their children’s college of choice, educational institutions should be on notice. Anxiety about health and safety, cost and return on investment of a college degree is higher than ever, and parents need to feel confident that a college degree will be a valuable credential long after this COVID-19 crisis is over.
David Brond, [email protected], serves as vice president of strategy and planning for AB&C; he assists clients in achieving a positive return on their strategic branding, marketing and communication efforts. Elizabeth Cohen, [email protected], is vice president at The Melior Group, a marketing research firm focusing on education.