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Youth Aspirations: Imagining and Navigating Futures in Higher Education


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Youth Aspirations: Imagining and Navigating Futures in Higher Education is a guidebook that takes a new approach to preparing youth for higher education. Rather than focusing on grades, test scores or financing, the activities and program suggestions in this guidebook help young people envision higher education in their future and help them take steps toward aspiration achievement that includes relying on supports, navigating barriers, and reimagining what is possible for them. At its core, this guidebook is about fostering the belief among young people that higher education is for them (i.e., they belong) and that it is within their reach.

The content of this guidebook is rooted in elements of positive youth development and critical pedagogy. It draws from research on educational attainment and youth aspirations of young people in the United States and around the world. This guidebook helps youth aspire, while also supporting them to become active agents in attaining their aspirations by acknowledging and addressing any social constraints and opportunities along their pathway. This guidebook recognizes that higher education attainment is important for young people to secure employment, but it emphasizes the idea that higher educational attainment holds deep intrinsic value for youth. Higher education attainment can broaden opportunities for youth to feel respected, secure a sense of dignity, and be a force for social change. The program model and activities included in this guidebook are designed to affect the broader well-being of young people through supporting their abilities to achieve their aspirations in and through higher education.

This guidebook is not intended to be prescriptive. Instead, it offers four research-based elements for success on youths’ pathway to higher education that educators can implement flexibly in a way that best meets the needs of organizations and the youth they serve. These are elements that prepare youth for higher education in a way that complements more traditional academic and financial preparation that are commonplace in the formal school setting.

This guidebook is designed with middle school-aged youth (who might be the first in their family to go to college) in mind and to be implemented on a college campus but can be adapted for other age groups and other learning environments.

Author: Dr. Jennifer Skuza, University of Minnesota

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