This post is part of the Data for Action series, which offers topical briefs that are responsive to community concerns and emerging advocacy priorities.


Believe in students. Believe that they have dreams and goals for themselves, and believe that they can and will reach them. The building of this belief—a crucial way that adults can strengthen school climate—is one of the focuses of the College and Career Leadership Institute (CCLI).

CCLI has been working with teams from 16 different high schools in the Road Map Project region to improve the college and career-going culture at their schools. This fall, school staff took a College and Career Staff Survey for the second year to assess their college-going culture, knowledge on college access indicators, how college and career school supports impact our students’ success, and beliefs about students’ aspirations and expectations. This survey mirrors the College and Career Climate Survey that students in our region take every year.

Last year, we found that on average, school staff believed 77% of students in their schools aspire to attend postsecondary; while the College and Career Climate Survey results show that 95% of surveyed students aspire to attend postsecondary. This 18-point gap was consistent across race, gender, and whether the responding staff taught advisory or not. We also found that on average, school staff believed 67% of students in their schools expect to attend postsecondary; while the College and Career Climate Survey results show that 93% of surveyed students expect to attend postsecondary. This result was also consistent across race, gender, and whether they teach advisory or not. When we showed these results to the schools, it became clear to staff that it was necessary to focus on shifting adult mindsets. The CCLI team wanted staff to not only learn that students want to attend postsecondary after high school, but to examine their own perceptions and beliefs, and to believe students’ aspirations, and then fully support those aspirations.

For the past year, schools participating in CCLI focused on creating better supports for students through the financial aid process, advisory lessons, and the High School and Beyond Plan. One of the key strategies was to ensure teachers and staff at their schools felt prepared to support students with anything related to college and career. The school teams ensured they shared both the staff and student results with staff, and provided training on financial aid and on their High School and Beyond Plan platforms. Many schools have also completely recreated their college and career lessons or modeled them after the College Knowledge Scope and Sequence Student Lessons and Family Workshops. By the end of the school year, the schools also had the opportunity to create a Professional Development Plan for staff for the 2021-2022 school year.

During late summer and early fall of 2021, each CCLI school implemented the second year of the College and Career Staff Survey. We are excited to see a meaningful change. On average, school staff believed that 81% of students in their schools aspire to attend postsecondary; while the College and Career Climate Survey results show that 95% of surveyed students aspire to attend postsecondary. We also found that on average, school staff believed that 72% of students in their schools expect to attend postsecondary; while the College and Career Climate Survey results show that 93% of surveyed students expect to attend postsecondary. It is phenomenal to see the 4% point increase in adults’ beliefs of our students’ aspirations and a 5% point increase in adults’ beliefs of our students’ expectations. We are especially thrilled to see this increase in just one year, though we acknowledge that there is more work to do to ensure that adults’ beliefs match the aspirations and expectations of our students. From the annual college and career climate survey that our students take, over 42% of our students of color and over 48% of first-generation students in the region have shared that school staff, including teachers, are a helpful resource for learning about college. For these students, it is important that staff at our schools have the appropriate training and tools to support students in the college-going process, since they are depending on them.

Some schools saw a larger increase of 8-12% in staff beliefs. When looking more closely at these schools, the team noticed a pattern of these schools offering targeted trainings to their staff—including financial aid training, “what is your role in college and career” workshops, and sessions on different pathways available to students.

Anthony Berry is a CTE Career Specialist at Kentridge High School, one of the high schools that implemented these strategies. He said, “Kentridge increased adults’ beliefs in students’ aspirations and expectations by using staff meetings to share data from our student survey, particularly data points around the percentage of students who planned to attend a postsecondary option and what students have found to be most helpful in learning about college.”

In fall 2020, Kentridge also required all of their teaching staff to attend the CCLI workshop “Financial Aid Basics for Teachers,” which went beyond covering the components of the FAFSA and WASFA, and spotlighted high level facts about financial aid all staff in a school building should know. From this year’s staff survey results, the Kentridge School staff saw an 11% increase in both adults’ beliefs in student aspirations and expectations, a 6% increase in FAFSA knowledge, and a 13% increase in WASFA knowledge. Even more exciting was the 14% increase on the question “I have spoken to my students about the availability of financial aid to pay for college” and a 15% increase in the question “Do you think that all students could afford to attend a public 4-year college using financial aid, scholarships, and their family’s resources?”

Currently, CCLI schools are reviewing their staff survey results and planning how to further shift adults’ mindsets with tailored professional development plans for the rest of the year, a comprehensive financial aid approach as a school (rather than as individual or team), and tracking college applications and the transition to college for their students. The CCLI team believes successfully shifting adult mindsets and behaviors will require a collaborative effort, with all school staff being on board and believing that their students want to go to college, and with all staff receiving the training and resources necessary to support students.

“To me, believing in students means that we not only have certainty in their abilities to reach their goals but are also instilling confidence into them simultaneously,” said Berry. “Constant student connections and affirming each student that they can attain their postsecondary goals is key.”

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