Revamped Colonial Inauguration: No parents and smaller sessions

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

Colonial Inauguration cabinet leaders welcome freshmen to a previous orientation. This year, the Class of 2021 will find a more intimate and academically focused schedule, with no parent sessions.

As incoming freshmen arrive for Colonial Inauguration this summer, they will find a more intimate and academically-focused schedule, without one central element of past programs – their parents.

Officials moved parent orientation programming online and decided to hold CI more frequently with fewer students in attendance at each session to create a more individualized orientation for incoming freshmen. Experts said moving to online parent orientation is more convenient and cost-effective but doesn’t allow for parents to interact and ask questions to administrators on campus.

The move continues a years-long trend of toning down a once-flashy program and dedicating more attention to academic topics like course registration and life in the classroom.

Programs like the “Gelman Library Open House,” the student performance showcase and the “Buff and Blue Barbecue” on the Mount Vernon Campus were axed in this year’s schedule, which cut and combined programs after CI was reduced from four three-day sessions to six two-day sessions.

Programming for parents was cut entirely from the schedule, which for years allowed parents to attend in-person “GW 101” sessions, covering topics ranging from dining to Title IX to financing a college tuition. Siblings were encouraged to attend CI sessions and could participate in a separate siblings program, which was also cut this year.

Associate Dean of Students Danielle Lico said the parent program will be a “hybrid orientation model,” combining new online information modules with in-person programming during move-in and Colonial Weekend this fall.

She said online parent programming, which is offered through Blackboard, has garnered more than 7,000 logins since its May launch. Lico did not say what programming the fall orientation will include.

Family-orientated resources have been on the chopping block in recent years as the University faced a budget crunch. Last summer, the Office of Parent Services was dissolved and parent outreach was moved under a new Student Support and Family Engagement department within the Division of Student Affairs.

The program this summer also limits individual sessions to 375 incoming students, increasing the ratio of staff to students to boost “personal attention” paid to members of the incoming class, Lico said. She said that some student engagement activities, like residence hall tours, are still featured on the CI schedule, but others will be moved to fall programming.

“While the summer sessions will also include some activities about campus engagement, there will be a new program component during move-in weekend that will be focused on getting involved on campus,” she said in an email.

Officials said in December that the changes to the program will reduce costs for families, but in an email interview, Lico declined to say how. She also declined to say whether the University is still encouraging parents to attend CI, who decided which programs to cut and how officials determined which programs would be cut or combined.

Lico also declined to say whether the cuts will reduce costs for the University. In recent years, CI has become less flashy as officials cut the $75,000 laser light show, casino nights, ice cream socials and engraved chocolates that once defined its programming – before the University announced two ongoing rounds of budget cuts that led to layoffs and slimmed-down academic departments in 2015 and 2016.

In recent years, officials have focused the more subdued program on academics and sought to address serious topics like sexual assault prevention in greater detail. A student-led campaign pressured officials to add mandatory in-person sexual assault prevention training to the program in 2015.

Kurt Koczent, an incoming GW parent, said he “didn’t see a lot of value” in the move to online parent programming and has not completed the online modules yet. He said he’s disappointed that he will not be able to participate in CI activities when he and his son, Ethan, drive down from Geneva, N.Y. for the second CI session June 15 and 16.

“I’ll be essentially just sightseeing in Washington, and that’s not what I wanted to do,” he said. “I’m driving my son down, and I’m going to have to stay anyway, so it seems awkward that I’m coming down but I’m not involved.”

Koczent said that because he attended a rural college, he wanted to ask questions about dining options and package services and gain an understanding of what campus life would entail for his son at a city school.

“Certainly the history of GW, as well as getting to understand more about what life is going to be like for my son while he’s in college would be important to me,” he said. “There’s a lot of questions we have as parents.”

Carly Ann Long, an incoming freshman from Roxboro, N.C., said it is both nerve-wracking and exciting – but ultimately helpful – to be away from her parents at CI.

“When I go off to college actually, they’re not going to be there with me, so it’s a good chance to experience it on a small scale,” she said.

Long said she will attend the third CI session, which may reduce costs for her family because her parents will not have to stay in a hotel.

But cutting back on parental involvement during in-person summer orientations is not a trend unfamiliar to urban-area schools.

David Vogelsang, the executive director of New York University’s Student Resource Center, said NYU – one of GW’s peer institutions – did away with its summer orientation program several years ago after the cost of visiting a school in a city became more of a burden than a benefit.

“The costs of hotels, the costs of airfare for families – that is what we really found to be cost-prohibitive,” he said.

Vogelsang said NYU combines its parent orientation with move-in day after the university contacts parents and student throughout the summer through phone and email about a variety of subjects, like financial aid and student life.

At Northwestern University, another of GW’s peer institutions, there is a weeklong event held in September before classes start. The school also hosts a two-day parent and family orientation at the start of the week.

Vogelsang said online orientation is more convenient but doesn’t allow for parents to talk to each other and ask questions to administrators. But he added that high expectations for parental involvement in primary schools could give parents the wrong idea about how involved they can be once their child enters college.

“You come to college and it’s like uh-uh, not anymore, they’re an adult,” Vogelsang said. “We’ll have a relationship with you, but it won’t be the same as it has been prior to your arrival.”

Christopher Morphew, a professor of higher education and student affairs at the University of Iowa, said in-person orientation experiences often give colleges the chance to sell themselves to parents and become “ambassadors” for the university at home.

“For a university like GW – a selective, private university – it’s really important to communicate its brand and its identity, and I think part of that would be getting people on the campus and seeing what life is like in D.C. and all the opportunities that are available to them there,” he said.

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