"This is excellent, really good," Joe Koch said during a break in the daylong program. "It really makes you feel a part of it."
The Koches joined about 60 other parents of students in La Salle's Class of 1991 in an innovative program aimed at helping them adjust to that often rocky American rite of passage called college.
"Most parents have a lot of anxiety about their children starting
college," said Peter J. Filicetti, assistant director of La Salle's counseling center, which oversees the pre-college counseling program.
"Parents often have expectations of students which are unrealistic. They are as caught up in the college experience as their children are. That's why it's very important to address them and their concerns."
While their children attended a workshop one floor up, the La Salle parents yesterday convened in the school's music room, on the second floor of the Union Building, to hear talks about financial aid, watch a slide show about campus social life and learn about some of the challenges they will face when school begins in September.
"They (the students) are sitting up there petrified, but everyone is trying to be cool," explained John F. Reardon, an associate professor of accounting, as he addressed the parents during an opening session. "We want the kids upstairs to calm down; we want you to feel a part of this."
Among other advice passed on to parents during the day:
* Don't be alarmed if your child drops a course during the fall semester. There's nothing sacred about taking the standard load of five courses a semester, and about 58 percent of La Salle students change their majors at least once before they graduate.
* The biggest shock your child is likely to suffer at La Salle is his or her grade on an initial theme. Students accustomed to getting A's in high school are likely to receive C's on the first go-around in English composition. By year's end, the grades will typically be higher.
* As much as possible, keep your child's work off campus to a minimum during the freshman year. An average class load of 15 credit hours a week translates to a 30- or 40-hour academic "work week" when allowances are made for class preparation.
* Don't impose your own career goals on your child. According to school officials, students need time during their freshman year to explore their own academic interests without parental pressure. Officials said that the vast majority of private industry recruiters on campus wanted students who could read and write - not those with narrow career skills.
All told, La Salle - a liberal arts school administered by the Christian Brothers at 20th Street and Olney Avenue - expects to enroll 750 to 800 freshmen this fall.
And by summer's end, some 90 percent of the parents of those entering students will have attended an orientation workshop like the one held yesterday.
Although orientation programs are common at colleges across the country, La Salle's program is one of the few that directly involves parents.
Established about 27 years ago, the program has helped to reduce significantly La Salle's dropout rate, according to school officials.
Before the program began, some 15 percent of the school's students dropped out during their freshman year, about the same as the national average. Today, school officials boast that the freshman dropout rate has fallen to 1.5 percent, well below the average, in large part because of the parents' awareness of how to lend support.
"We're quite proud of that," Filicetti said. "It's extremely low."
La Salle's apparent success with its freshman orientation program comes at a time when national studies have identified the need for schools to do a better job of counseling entering freshmen.
"For whatever reasons, too many students, once they get to campus, do not make a satisfactory adjustment," wrote Ernest L. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, in a recent landmark study of undergraduate education in America.
"Some, for the best of reasons, transfer or drop out, planning to return," Boyer wrote. "Others drift away from campus because of an absence of a feeling of belonging or fitting in at the institution."
For their part, the parents who took part in La Salle's program yesterday said the school's efforts to reach out to them as well as their children had already begun to mold a sense of belonging.
"I am a single parent, so it is difficult," said Angela Barreca of Cornwells Heights. "But there are so many things I am learning."
Barbara Shapiro, a parent from Harrisburg, took the train to Philadelphia yesterday morning and plunked down $15 for cab fare to get from 30th Street Station to the La Salle campus.
"Debra is my first child to go to college," she said. "And essentially I'm nosey and want to know what's going to be going on here."
Ed Lawfen of Warminster reckoned that because he was footing the bill of about $10,000 a year (including tuition, room and board) for his daughter to attend La Salle, he'd better learn how his money would be spent.
And Dave Wilson, a coin dealer from Jackson, N.J., whose daughter will enter La Salle in the fall, said he wished the kind of program he took part in yesterday had been around when he went to school.
"I left college in my second year," Wilson confessed. "I wouldn't have dropped out if I had available the kind of program I've seen today."