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Study: Hispanic Freshman Want ‘Helicopter Parents’

The conventional wisdom has it that so-called helicopter parents are annoying their children by hovering over their every move as they apply to college. But it turns out most freshmen are happy with how involved mom and dad were during their college search.

In fact, new survey data suggest that the bigger problem may be the opposite — parents sometimes aren’t as attentive as their children would like.

That’s especially true for Hispanic students, who were much more likely than Whites to say their parents weren’t involved enough in areas like helping them apply to college and helping them choose classes once they got there.

The figures, from a major survey of college freshman out from University of California-Los Angeles, are part of an emerging body of research on what has largely been an anecdotal trend: the idea that parents have become much more involved in the lives of their teenage children, perhaps unhealthily so.

Twenty percent of Black students, and 27 percent of Hispanic ones, reported their parents were not involved enough in their applications. Hispanic students, who are much more likely than Whites to be first-generation college students, also were substantially more likely than Whites to say their parents had too little involvement in areas such as dealing with college officials and choosing college courses.

Those numbers seem to confirm what many in college admissions have been saying for years: Boosting the comparatively low proportion of Hispanics who go on to college will require concerted efforts by recruiters, guidance counselors and financial aid officers to help them through the process.

“Our parents are unaware of the issues involved, so they couldn’t helicopter, hover, if they wanted to,” said Vicky Evans, college counselor at Downtown College Prep, a charter school in San Jose, Calif., that serves mostly Hispanic students.

Downtown College Prep takes students on college visits, helps them step-by-step with the admissions process, helps them fill out financial aid forms and even has an alumni coordinator who continues to work with them once they leave for college, Evans said. With some parents, language issues are the main barrier to being more involved, but others simply don’t realize the economic value of a college degree.

“On their part there seems to be a reliance on the system to really take care of their kids,” she said. “We’re trying to do that.”

In some ways, the latest survey complicates the picture. Overall, 74 percent of the more 270,000 surveyed freshmen said their parents, or guardians, displayed the “right amount” of involvement in their applications. About 11 percent said their parents were involved “too much” and about 15 percent “too little.”

“We were hearing outrageous stories” about helicopter parents said University of California at Los Angeles researcher Sylvia Hurtado. “To our surprise, a great majority say it’s just right, even though we’re hearing a great deal of stories from admissions officers, financial aid officers, faculty who say parents are calling about their daughter’s exam and what not.”

Exactly what conclusions should be drawn from the findings is open to debate. It could be that parents are finding a good balance between gentle prodding and being hands-off. But it could also be that students want lots of help from their parents — and perhaps get too much for their own good. Further research will evaluate whether the students’ attitudes toward their parents change during college.

Associated Press

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