reed magazine logonovember2005

In an age of involvement, college parents must ask . . .
How much is too much?

savage image By Marjorie Savage

When the phone rings in a college admissions office these days, it’s a safe bet that the caller is not a high school student asking for an application. More likely, the person on the line is a parent.

It’s much the same in the offices responsible for financial aid, residence life, or even health and counseling services: Parents are making the calls, asking the questions, and trying to solve whatever problems their students might be having.

Older alumni cannot imagine why parents would be asking about registration dates, complaining about noise in the residence halls, or conferring with an academic counselor, and even many relatively recent graduates are puzzled by the connection between the parents and children of “millennial families” — those with children who have graduated from high school within the past five years.

Yet such involvement amounts to a natural progression for many of today’s college parents, who have heard since their children were toddlers that it is a crucial component of success. They have been told to visit schools, meet teachers, and know the friends of their children. Elementary, junior high, and high schools have mailed parent newsletters, sent email updates, and posted assignments and grade reports online so that parents can track a student’s progress on a daily basis. And that involvement has worked. The students attending competitive colleges such as Reed are successful at least in part because of their parents’ interest and support.

With escalating costs, parents are more likely to monitor what they see as a major financial stake in their children’s education. The price of an undergraduate degree can easily exceed the family house- and car-payments combined, and even those spared the full cost know its value. Such instant and constant forms of communication as email, cell phones, and text messaging add to the parental role. Students quick-dial their parents as they hand in a difficult quiz, the moment they open the bank notice saying they have overdrawn their checking account, or as the door slams to punctuate a spat with a roommate. There is no cool-down period between the latest campus crisis and the report to mom or dad. next page

Sujata Gamage helps her daughter, Anu Samarajiva ’09, move in.


President Colin Diver greets every new member of the freshman class at the orientation picnic.