NCTN National College Transition Network
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Aspirations Toolkit

The National College Transition Network has received funding from the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation along with matching support from World Education to develop and disseminate a toolkit of promising practices that foster adult learners’ aspirations along their education and career pathway.

StarClick here to learn how you can contribute to the Toolkit.

StarClick here to view the Aspirations Toolkit.


In spite of the growing attention to increase the number of adults with a postsecondary credential, the demand by undereducated adults for college transition programs is far from commensurate with the need.  Too many adults think that postsecondary education is not for them. The barriers they think of are both real and imagined, ranging from low self-efficacy (sense of competence to accomplish a task or goal) to affordability. These barriers can be addressed for most adults by adult education programs, their partner agencies and the adult learners themselves. It begins with a paradigm shift of changing one’s self-concept and goals.

In order for adult learners to take their next steps successfully, adult education programs must also shift their paradigm and practice and develop specific strategies to heighten learners’ aspirations and goals, throughout all program phases, from enrollment and orientation to instruction, counseling, and planning for next steps. Promising practices exist but they have not been documented or compiled into one coherent document that programs could use to good effect at a pre-transition level.

Aspirations Toolkit

College ReadinessThe Aspirations Toolkit will be a resource for practitioners to make this important paradigm shift in promoting learner aspirations early and often in their instruction and counseling interactions. The toolkit will be flexibly organized around phases of programming: enrollment, ongoing instruction; ongoing counseling; and planning for next steps.  In addition, the Aspirations Toolkit will inspire and illustrate how to embed the four areas of college and career readiness into all a phases of programming, namely:

  1. Personal Readiness – the ability to anticipate challenges and secure supports proactively, and juggle multiple commitments while managing stress and time;
  2. Career Readiness – the ability to articulate a realistic goal that is aligned with labor market data and identify the steps along one’s education and career pathway;
  3. Academic Readiness – content knowledge, study skills, technology skills, and strategies for college level reading, writing, and algebra; and   
  4. College Knowledge Readiness – the ability to navigate college culture and admissions and financial aid processes.

What do we mean by raising aspirations? Consider these words from an adult educator and student:

It is important that we continue to expose all students, beginning with those at the lowest levels, to the possibilities of higher education and the series of steps they can take to get there. As I told the students, “You may not be ready for college now, but you should continue to study so that you will be ready for a program like Bridges to College which can help you.”  ~ Richard Goldberg, Director, Bridges to College, JVS-Boston

I focus so much more on my abilities now, not my deficits.  We’ve been shown how to compensate for our negatives, how to capitalize on our positives and how to both succeed and how to rise again when we fail.
 ~Adult learner enrolled in a college transition program supported by NCTN 

Examples of practices that raise student aspirations:

  • Activities that expose students to the world of college and careers
  • Mentoring, especially provided by program graduates engaged in college or career
  • Collage project to express hopes and dreams
  • Learning about the paths of others, e.g. reading memoirs of people who started on a similar path to become first-generation to go to college, etc.

StarClick here to learn how you can contribute to the Toolkit.

StarClick here to view the Aspirations Toolkit.

For more information, contact Sandy Goodman,

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