New online course helps parents support their child’s first year at VCU

New online course helps parents support their child’s first year at VCU

Virginia Commonwealth University is offering a new online course for the parents of new students this semester.

Beyond Orientation: Partnering for Success in Today's University” attracted registrants from 160 families who live around the country. Since the start of the fall semester, they’ve come together as an online community every Thursday evening to hear from university leaders who discuss current topics in education.

The course was designed to create a network in which parents and families can interact with university faculty and administrators for a deeper understanding of the resources available to students and a closer look at their child’s first-year experience.

“It is no secret that engaged parents provide their students with support in their academic study,” said Luke Schultheis, vice provost for the Division of Strategic Enrollment Management.  

“At VCU, we admit students based upon a holistic review and then we provide holistic support. Developing the whole student during this transformative time in their life so that they can emerge from their studies as leaders is of paramount importance,” Schultheis said. “Our engagement with the family provides such support.”

This year, VCU welcomed approximately 3,600 new first-year students. Course facilitator Daphne Rankin, Ph.D., associate vice provost for strategic enrollment management, said that, for some, the difference between success and failure depends on what their parents do — or don’t do.

“We hear the terms ‘helicopter parents’ or ‘Velcro parents’ to describe parents that become overly involved in the lives of their children,” Rankin said. “But at VCU, we don’t see parents in this way. Parents are instrumental in the success of our students.”

A new topic is featured each week, including becoming a smart urban dweller and learning about money matters, career planning, coping with stress, college writing and community engagement. There’s even a session on empty nest parents and homesick students.

The 30-minute presentations are followed up with a question-and-answer session and an opportunity to share ideas. All of the sessions are recorded and, along with class resources, are made available to class participants on Blackboard, the Web-based course-management system.

“We thought parents and families should use the same system used by their students,” Rankin said. “I should also mention this course is only successful because of Colleen Bishop and her team in Learning Systems, which is part of VCU Technology Services.”

Donna Watson of Virginia Beach is the mother of two VCU students – Elizabeth, a senior, and Kevin, a freshman. She enrolled in the course after learning about it at New Student Orientation in June.  

“This course has provided greater knowledge about what is available at VCU for the students as well as the issues. New student orientation provided a great overview. This class goes into greater detail,” Watson said. “It has fostered communication with my children. Each week, I write down questions to ask our children. I hate to admit it, but I have even texted questions to our children during the class.”  

The course, which costs $25, is offered pass-fail. There’s a final project, a paper on what the parent has learned to support their child’s success. Those who successfully complete the course will earn an hour of college credit.

“By the end of this course, parents are going to understand much more about who we are as a university,” Rankin said. “They’ll realize how student-centered we are. And a byproduct is that the families will become wonderful ambassadors for our university.”


Subscribe for free to the weekly VCU News email newsletter at and receive a selection of stories, videos, photos, news clips and event listings in your inbox every Thursday. VCU students, faculty and staff automatically receive the newsletter.