Helicopter parent? There’s an app for that

Helpful support for students or an expensive way to interfere?

Inside Higher Ed reports on a new app which updates parents on their student’s progress. But is it a helpful addition to student support or just a license for interfering parents? It’s not cheap either:

When families sign up for the program and pay the monthly $29.95 subscription fee, the student gets access to a series of Mentoring Interactive Programs, or MIPs, which can be accessed online or from a mobile phone. Each MIP consists of a short video on a topic such as “Coping With Homesickness” or “How to Ask for Help in College.” At the end of each MIP, students are asked a series of multiple-choice questions about their health, social adjustment, academic behavior and academic goals.

After the student completes the week’s 10 multiple-choice questions, the data are analyzed by the csMentor technology and a report is generated for the student and the parents. The report doesn’t list the students’ answers, but instead provides a summary of how the student is doing in the four key areas, each of which is coded green, yellow or red.

“We see the service as a way of enhancing communication between parent and students,” said Steve Wattenmaker, CEO of csMentor. “We think it will enrich the conversations. It can go beyond the typical, ‘How’s everything this week?’ ”

Interesting. It seems to entail a much greater degree of involvement than would perhaps normally be the case. Surely this can’t be a good thing?

Wattenmaker and the rest of the csMentor team, which is made up of educational psychologists, counselors and university administrators, hope the program will help students and parents spot potential problems earlier, so they can deal with them before they escalate.

But Marjorie Savage, parent program director at the University of Minnesota and author of the book You’re on Your Own (But I’m Here If You Need Me), wonders if parents should be involved so early in the problem-solving process.

“It feels to me like it’s going further than what a typical college student should need,” Savage said.

I think Savage perhaps understates the point here. It really isn’t good for the student to have parental involvement in this way. Particularly when universities have their own teams of student services professionals whose job is to offer this kind of support. Moreover, most students are adults and independent and should be treated as such. Really this just looks like a very expensive

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A checkup call from the top

Valuable student support measure or a bit of a gesture?

In addition to spending what must be a huge amount over the past few months on advertising in the trade press, Boston University has undertaken another big investment, according to The Boston Globe, checking up on new students:

With new students wrapping up their first month on campus, school staff and administrators, including the provost and dean of students, spent the week calling all 4,300 first-year and transfer students, an ambitious gesture designed to make them feel at home.

“It’s about community,’’ said Kenneth Elmore, the university’s dean of students. “We want students to know we’re here to help.’’

Many administrators and researchers applaud the school for reaching out to students during the pivotal first semester, a time when they are at greater risk of falling behind and dropping out. Nationally, just 57 percent of full-time students at four-year colleges graduate within six years.

‘It’s about community. We want students to know we’re here to help. . . . We tell them we’re here to help them steer their course.’

“The most productive thing you can do is focus on the early experience,’’ said John N. Gardner, the head of a North Carolina institute that works with universities to improve student retention. “If they go unnoticed and unaddressed, academic problems can become severe.’’

I do think this is quite a good idea, particularly with the low completion rates referred to here. And it is undoubtedly the case that the early experience is particularly important. However, in isolation, one ‘phone call will not be sufficient and does need to be just a part of a larger student support package. Would it work in the UK? Or would it be seen as a bit an empty gesture?