“Parents Matter” with Sally Daniels of Augsburg College

Q: Why is parent/family relations important?

A: It benefits the institution and it benefits the parents.

Working with parents to answer their questions or connect them with the appropriate resource on campus definitely helps with enrollment. During the decision-making process, the program helps by providing useful information and building a relationship. And, being available to answer parent questions on an ongoing basis on myriad topics, such as financial aid and majors, is a retention tool.

It has been my experience that given the freedom and support to move across divisions of a college/university, I can really engage with the 3 populations of parents and families: prospective, current, and past. I have access to the Enrollment Management Division’s database of prospective students, so when a student is accepted I send a personal note of congratulations to their parent(s). When they make their deposit, another personal note of welcome and an “Auggie Family” window decal is on its way to the family.

I provide another touch point with parents/families as part of new student orientation, under the Student Affairs Division. I offer sessions for parents on how to prepare as a family for the launching of their soon-to-be college student. Once the students are enrolled, I work mostly under my own division (Institutional Advancement) to offer many opportunities for parents and families to participate in activities at the college as well as to volunteer at on-campus events.

Three times a year, I send a “Points of Pride” postcard to all current students’ households, with “bragging points” reminding them how proud we are that they’re an Augsburg family and the exciting things happening at their college. After graduation, the bond between parent(s) and the college is, hopefully both strong and proud enough to lead them to become donors (or continue to donate as last year current Auggie parents gave $22,000 to the Augsburg Fund!)

Q: How specifically can parent/family relations add value to an institution?

A: In addition to helping with recruitment and leading to donations, I get “thanks” from parents fairly often saying things like “we are truly blessed to have you along for this ride of college parenting and we are very thankful for all you do!”  In fact, the importance of relationship-building with parents seems to be growing more and more. They feel supported and appreciate that they have someone to call or email.

Q: How long have you been in parent/family relations? How has it changed?

A: I have been in this role since August 2005. Today there are more opportunities to grow professionally, for example, as a member of the Association of Higher Education Parent/Family Program Professionals (AHEPPP). There are also a few more colleges and universities in the Midwest that have or are considering funding a parent/family program. Such programs are much more prevalent on the East and West Coasts.

Q: What are the key ingredients for a successful parent/family relations program?

A: Support across divisions and strong support from the highest levels of leadership. It’s crucial to have a person in this position who is patient and good at building relationships. Plus, it’s been quite helpful for me to have a history with Augsburg College, so that when I do have a parent who comes to me with a problem or a challenge, I know whom to connect with to address and resolve it.

Q: What are some tips for effectively and efficiently engaging with today’s parents and families?

A: I have found that the more information you can provide, the better. At Augsburg, we have a web section dedicated to parents: www.augsburg.edu/parents. Parents are sent a monthly e-newsletter. And, I answer my telephone and e-mails in a timely manner!

Q: Any further advice or stories?

A: Although not completely necessary, it has been very helpful for me in this role to have been the mother of 2 college students (yes, both as Auggies!) and to be an Augsburg graduate myself (Class of 1979).

When an upset alumna called to complain that her daughter didn’t make it into the Augsburg Choir as a first-year student, I knew and quickly replied: “Neither did mine! No first-year students make it into the Augsburg Choir! Isn’t it great that our choir is so good?!”

Similarly, when a protective father wanted to move into the Residence Hall with his daughter, saying he’d live on the guy’s floor nearby in case she needed him, I could say: “I completely understand your worry. Let’s talk a bit, shall we?” He didn’t move in…

Sally Daniels Herron is Director of Parent and Family Relations at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, MN. Previously she served in the admission office for 26 years, including serving as Augsburg’s Director of Admission from 1991-2005.

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