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Study: Parents Need To Plant College-going Seed While Children Are In Middle School

A study being released today says parents are missing an opportunity to help their children prepare for college during the middle-school years, seen as a critical development time for a person’s educational future.

“From Aspirations to Action: The Role of Middle School Parents in Making the Dream of College a Reality,” prepared by the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), details what parents and students should be concentrating on while preparing for college. The focus was on parents of children in grades 6 through 8, the traditional middle-school years. Researchers discovered that, while the majority of parents expect their children to go to college, most are not doing much to see that goal to fruition.

“Clearly, there is a need for students and parents to know much earlier about the college process in order to make sound decisions later on,” said Jamie P. Merisotis, IHEP’s founding president. “Planning ahead is important because many decisions must be made before high school, such as choosing the academic coursework necessary to prepare for college.”

While 87 percent of the parents interviewed for the report expected their child to go to college, about two-thirds of the parents had not begun saving for tuition. The study also found that more than one-third of the parents said they had no information on college preparation or the admissions process. While influences outside the home are factors in a child’s decision-making process, Merisotis says parents have the most say.

“Research has shown that students believe their parents to be the most important source of information and guidance in terms of going to college,” she says.

According to the study, parents who either did not finish high school or never went to college were least likely to provide their children with information on college and how to properly prepare for it. In some cases, such figures as teachers and counselors found in the children’s schools are the only outlet for information, which can sometimes be daunting.

“Parents and students both mentioned that teachers and counselors play an important role in the process of planning for college,” says Kathleen deLaski, president of The Sallie Mae Fund, which contributed to the report. “The amount of time teachers and counselors are able to spend with each child varies widely. In some schools, for example, the ratio of counselors to students is 1:500 or more.”

To better guarantee that their children go on to institutions of higher learning, the report says parents must become more involved in the process – and earlier. Other remedies include outreach to parents by school teachers and counselors to help prepare a curriculum for students to help better prepare them for college.

Sallie Mae currently offers Kids to College, a program offering middle-school children from low-income families in nine states a chance to interact with professors and administrators from area colleges and universities. After the study was finished, officials said the program would be expanded to reach more children needing the information acquired in the program.

Should a parent finding they have a junior in high school who has not been educated on what it takes to make it in college give up on getting their child through college? Not at all, deLaski says.

“It’s never too late. Parents who have not saved enough to fully pay for college can help their children by researching financial aid options and looking at the tuition prices of local schools. Parents can also explore the numerous books and websites that discuss college and can talk to their child’s guidance counselor or teacher for more information or guidance on where to look.”

Adds Merisotis: “Broadly, parents should make sure they understand the process, from academic to financial, so that they can make sure that they and their child are making choices that will enable access to the college of their choice. At this early stage, the most important steps are to set high expectations for their child, ensure that their child is on a rigorous academic path, and begin saving as early as possible, even if it is a small sum.”

–Marlon A. Walker

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