Your son or daughter is off to college. Depending on his or her maturity level and experience, the college adventure can be exciting or overwhelming. In most cases, it’s a little of both. As a parent, you will worry if your student will succeed, about finances and the influences of strangers. It doesn’t matter if the first-year experience is at a community college or a residential campus, the parental concern will always be there.
College campuses are environments where students will meet people from a variety of backgrounds. If your child grew up knowing students with a similar background, college will put him or her in heterogeneous surroundings with students from differing upbringings and backgrounds. Students who have been homeschooled may actually be more experienced in dealing with varying backgrounds.
Letting your child know how to discern friend or foe has been your mission from day one, and since you can’t follow your progeny into the classroom, labs, rec center or cafeteria, you should talk to them about the possibility that there are people out there that will try and take advantage of their youth and inexperience.
College campuses, urban, suburban or rural, are prime territory for crooks and criminals. Colleges work hard to protect students, but as the saying goes, it takes a village. First, find out who and what are your likely points of contact if you have questions about student safety and welfare. Places and people such as the residence hall staff, counselors, campus police, health center and student life offices are valuable resources. If you attended a parent orientation session, you most likely have a quick reference guide to these resources. Second, find out the crime statistics for the campus. You can do this by calling the campus security or health and environment safety offices. A quicker way to get to the information is to go to the U.S. Department of Education, Campus Safety and Security website and look up your institution. If the college or university receives federal funds, and most do, this is where their campus crime report is published. There you can see if there are concerning trends and find contact information for school officials.
Once you are informed, inform your child about a safety and welfare plan. If she is taking night classes or is involved in after-hours activities, what is the best place to walk, bike or park? Is there a campus security service that will escort students to their residence hall or car? Who is the contact person in case of harassment or bullying? In the residence halls, how are non-students monitored?
Next to safety, student wellbeing should be part of the conversation. Where are counseling services when things are overwhelming and getting in the way of studying? Is it more than being homesick? Is that fever just a cold or is it time to contact health services? How will you know if your child is not showing up for class? No one is going to call you like they did in high school. Once classes have started your student will know more about resources. Ask him or her to share those with you. Get the name and phone number of a roommate or classmate that can get hold of your child if you cannot. Use “find my phone” apps to track down their phone, if needed.
Finally, know that school officials will not share some information due to privacy laws. The Family Right to Privacy Act deems that college students 18 and older have a right to confidentiality unless they give the institution permission to communicate with you. Depending on your relationship with your son or daughter you can ask them to sign a form and file it with the records office. Every school has different procedures, so just ask someone for the FERPA release of information form.
Do some of these measures sound intrusive? The answer is that every situation is different. If you have a special-needs child attending college, the responsibility for asking for accommodations rests on the student. If your student studied aboard in high school or is mature beyond her years, you may not be as worried. The age of 18 is not the same for everyone, and even some older, nontraditional students, such as veterans, can benefit from these resources.
In the end, you want to see your offspring walk up the platform at commencement and receive that diploma. It may be four, five or more years from now. After all, that is the plan for the student, the college and you, the parent.
Emilia Paul, her husband and their two dogs live in the shadow of Pikes Peak. She came to America from Mexico at the age of 8 when her father was recruited due to a shortage of doctors in rural Illinois. She holds a bachelor’s degree in media communications and a master’s in English rhetoric and composition. After 33 years working in higher education, she retired as an associate vice president of student life from Metropolitan State University of Denver.