If you’ve read my book on Retention, then you know why parents of students in your school are the way they are.  Not all of them, of course, but when similar attributes are reflected in the majority of individuals within a particular age range, anthropologists label that grouping of individuals as a “generation.”    If you’ve attended an NCEA Convocation, you might have heard Sr. Carol Cimino’s presentation on “Meet the Parents.”

The majority of parents of K-12 students today are between the ages of 27 and 46.  Most Baby Boomers (individuals born between 1945 and 1964) now have students in higher education environments, and more and more members of this generation have now reached retirement age.  Those folks born between 1965 and 1984 are members of Generation X.  If you can remember any news articles that were published in the 1970’s that wondered what was going to happen to “Latchkey kids” – children that came home from school to an empty house because either both parents were working or there was a single parent as the head of the household.  What happened to them?  They bring their children to school and come to pick them up rather than letting them get on the bus.

If we consider generations to be about 20 years long (as archeologists do) Generation X today are primarily parents of children in the upper grades of high school, college and even into early adulthood.  They are the ME Generation.  Five years ago, they referred to their children as “MY son,” or “MY daughter,” or “MY child,” or “MY kid.”  They wanted their children to be rewarded for participating because they’re individuals, and they’re trying their best to achieve – whether or not a teacher thinks they are.  On a more positive note, these parents are so interested in making the school a better place that they’re at school all the time.  Teachers and administrators refer to them as “helicopter” parents.  They like to see immediate results since they grew up with fast food, microwave ovens, and credit cards. It’s all about “Instant gratification,” as some folks call it, and for many of these parents, the words “community,” “family,” and “sacrifice” are not understood in the traditional sense.  While a school may call its parent community a “family,” the parent’s experience of family might have been a single-parents household where mom worked two jobs and the older sister (who may have been 12) had to make sure there was something to eat on the table for dinner.  On the down side, these are also the parents who now accompany their 25-year old to their job interview, or even a performance assessment if their on-the-job behavior is being questioned.

There’s an interesting dichotomy that results in these folks.  They want things now, but they want to do it “their” way.  When it comes to paying tuition, they may be reluctant to sign on to a tuition management platform because they want to keep paying the way they want to, but also expect the school to drop everything to provide them a statement of what they’ve paid throughout the year.

Now let’s look at the parents whose children comprise most of the PK-12 educational experience.  They’re the Millennials.  Sometimes called Generation Y, it could be because they look back at the previous generation and wonder, “Why?”  Where Generation X is all about “me”, this generation is all about “us”… well, at least, their friends.  This is the Facebook Generation.  They “like” things, and they consider their community to be people “like” them.  They’re the Digital Immigrants (as opposed to the Digital Natives – which is Generation Z), and are all about immediacy (“Why is this computer so slow?!?!”) but can’t understand why they have to do things a particular way.  While they like to do things their way, they like to have options.  A new principal at an elementary school about 11 years ago when one of these parents came to her office and said, “What? I have to write a check to pay my tuition?  You mean I can’t pay this online?”  They’re different from the ME Generation because they’re more concerned about spiritual things, and are more interested in making the world a better place.  The good news about these folks is that they’re looking for schools like yours for their children’s educational environment!  Where are they looking?  On the Internet.  So you’d best be sure your school has an awesome online presence.  If you still have a Web page rather than an interactive and engaging Web site, that needs to change…and fast.  If your school’s Web presence looks old and doesn’t function well on mobile devices (that it, it’s not made with a responsive design), remember that an irrelevant Web presence means, in their minds, your school is irrelevant as well.

If you have a great Web site, and you want parents to use it, you’ll have no problem getting a Millennial parent to use it…so long as they can use it with that computer in their pocket – not necessarily the one sitting on the desk at home.  As for those Generation X parents, they’d rather see a report card than check their child’s grades online.  They need to have a compelling reason to use a Web site.  So, have a Web-based tuition management platform.  Every child is on your student information system.  Put every family on your financial management system.  It should be a matter of policy.  Your Millennials will appreciate it, and, after all, they’re the parents that will be part of your school community for a longer period of time.

Millennials are called “Digital Immigrants” because they grew up in a time when Facebook, apps, broadband and wireless were new technologies.  The Digital Natives, however, are those children that are in your PK, kindergarten and elementary school.  They have not known a time where technology was not all-pervasive.  They’ve been playing with an iPad longer than corporate professionals have been using them.  They’re not going to want to carry 5 textbooks weighing 7-pounds each home from school in their backpack.  They may be called Generation Z, but because of the way that technology personalizes one’s experience, they’re also referred to as the “Me Me Me Generation.”

But let’s jump ahead for a moment.  Today, most donors to your schools are members of the Great and Silent Generations, and many of them may be Baby Boomers.  These are folks that sacrificed so that their children would have a better life than they did, and many reaped great benefits as a result.  They trusted in the Scripture that says “they will be rewarded one hundredfold” (Mt 19:29).  They are philanthropists, stewards of the gifts that have been entrusted to them, and therefore share their gifts with others.  What do you think will happen when the members of the Me Generation start to reach retirement age in the next 10 years?  Will they be as philanthropic?

There’s an African proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second best time is now.”  If you’re not actively moving toward establishing a Development program in and for your school, now is the acceptable time to plant that tree.