Friday, September 4, 2009

Are Colleges Sharing Enough with Parents?

My oldest daughter attends a major Northeastern university; the youngest goes to a small private Jesuit college. The parent relations coordinator at the small school is doing an excellent job of keeping us informed about the swine flu situation on campus (100+ confirmed cases already). Her counterpart at the huge school? Not so much.

I'm getting almost daily e-mails from the Jesuit school telling me that they've encouraged kids to go home for the long Labor Day weekend to reduce the number of people on campus or about how they've set up an isolation ward for students who are sick but can't go home to recover. I feel like I'm as on top of this as I can be from such a distance and I appreciate the steady flow of information from the school. Anyone who isn't getting these e-mails can check the school's dedicated H1N1 Web page for daily updates.

To find out what was going on at my other daughter's large school, I used Google. There's a Web page addressing the situation, but it doesn't say if there are any confirmed cases on campus and the last update was a week ago.

This is no surprise. When the horrifying massacre at Virginia Tech dominated headlines a few years ago, I expected an e-mail from the university reassuring me that the school had a plan in place that would help prevent this from occurring there or that it had briefed students on how to react in a similar situation. Did I get such an e-mail? Nope. Thinking that maybe the school just didn't have my e-mail address, I watched my USPS mail for a letter updating me on the school's efforts to keep my daughter safe. Didn't get that, either. My daughter received e-mails from school officials on the topic, which is good, but as her parent and one of the people paying her bills at that school, I don't think it was unreasonable for me to expect to hear from the college then or now.

I'm left wondering: Does big university = bad communication with parents and small university = good communication with parents? Is the difference size or is it attitude? I have no idea, but I'm grateful that at least one of them recognizes that I am concerned about the health and safety of my children.

It's a reminder that we sometimes forget that all of our "stakeholders" are important -- not just some of them. Every time we're in a position to make an announcement or communicate important information, we need to review our list of stakeholders. Are we overlooking any group? It's always better to over communicate than to under communicate.

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