I spent the better part of ten years as a director for a student housing property management company. I’ve often said managing a student housing community is a lot like herding cats. They live an active lifestyle and they rarely sleep! However, as challenging as the students could be, they were not the biggest management challenge. That designation was reserved for their parents.
After having worked extensively in student housing, I am now in an interesting and somewhat unique situation. I have two children—my son Zach and my daughter Kalee—who will be freshmen this year at two different colleges. My son will live off-campus and my daughter will be living on-campus. I can now truly relate to how the parents I dealt with felt. I feel the anxiety of setting up housing for my kids. Obviously, like all parents, I want a safe, clean apartment where my children can study and have a positive social experience. I am afraid that I am turning into the type of parent that always caused me the most trouble in managing student housing… the dreaded helicopter parent!
If you have not had the opportunity to be a parent of a new college student, let me share with you a little of what it is like. The child that you have raised and spent your time, energy and money on has grown up and is on their way to college. For many parents, like me, this will be the first time that they are separated from their child for a significant period of time and distance. A college or university can be somewhat of a large, impersonal place. The students are known more by a number (social security or student number) than they are by their name. A parent is expected to bring their student to school, give them a hug, say goodbye, and go home. The control or guidance that a parent has had over their child for eighteen years is now rapidly slipping away.
As a property manager, I found that what these parents want most is some control. The college is not going to give them much control. Their policies are rigid. But, as a property manager, I can listen to the parent, empathize and show them that I care about them and more importantly, their son or daughter. I found that with difficult parents, it made a huge difference to spend time with them, especially during the move in process. I wanted them to know that I would care for the housing needs of their child. I wanted them to know that my staff and I would be responsive and available should issues arise. I would let the parent know that I care enough to not only respond to normal resident needs, but also to assist with roommate concerns as well.
Parents are not looking for someone to replace them, but they are looking for someone to care and respond to the needs of their children. My wife and I have made our housing decisions with Zach and Kalee based as much on who will be managing the communities that they will live in as the location and the communities themselves.
You can ensure a positive experience for parents by being patient, listening and empathizing with them. This will make move in time a more pleasant experience for you, your staff and most importantly, the students and give you a better opportunity to retain those students the following school year.