Districts Get Creative Marketing CTE’s Impact to Parents and Students

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Research & Practice

Districts Get Creative Marketing CTE’s Impact to Parents and Students Sean Owen, PhD December 9, 2020


They Only Buy What You Sell Mississippi CTE Centers Use Creative Marketing Strategies to Increase Awareness Increasingly, public schools are in a battle with private, charter, and home schools for funding and student enrollment. Through legislation, public relations campaigns, and simple word of mouth, the perception of the role of public schools is changing, and those who want to keep or improve their place in the community are wise to think strategically about their messaging and branding efforts (Gordon & Schultz, 2020). Both state and national policies drive the message that high school is a critical step to career preparation, and the main vehicle for career readiness is career and technical education (CTE) (Dougherty, 2016; Gottfried & Plasman, 2018). Although CTE curriculum has dramatically changed from the vo-tech of the past, many CTE centers and high schools have not improved their messaging. From school names incorporating vo-tech to outdated websites and communication tools, many states and local CTE centers could stand to better align their branding to the innovative learning experiences they

offer students, especially with the Perkins V impetus for nontraditional student recruitment (Hughes, 2020; Keily, 2019a). This shift in messaging could positively impact and realign state policies and legislation to meet the growing demand for a well-educated and skilled workforce (Keily, 2019b). To better understand the branding and marketing efforts of local CTE centers in Mississippi, researchers undertook this exploratory study using an online survey to secondary CTE school district stakeholders. To do so, we asked CTE directors and counselors about their beliefs about branding and their local branding/messaging activities. We also requested participants to provide samples of CTE promotion, such as flyers, infographics, websites, and more; samples were qualitatively analyzed for appropriateness for the intended audience and purpose. Survey and qualitative findings around the topics of marketing strategies and current promotion practices are presented in this brief.

SCOPE AND METHODOLOGY In the fall of 2020, the Mississippi State University Research and Curriculum Unit (RCU) sent an email to current Mississippi CTE directors and test coordinators encouraging the participation of one qualified person from each school district to complete a survey exploring their district’s CTE enrollment and promotion strategies. This study (IRB-20-421), requested by the Mississippi Department of Education, was

granted exemption status by the Mississippi State University’s Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects in Research. Participation in the study was anonymous and optional. We conducted a statistical analysis on the data of the school districts that responded to the survey. There were a total of 76 responses out of the 117 secondary CTE

sites in Mississippi for a 65% response rate. This observational study sought to identify patterns of behavior among CTE programs’ marketing and promotion strategies. Moreover, the researchers wished to identify self-evaluated strengths and weaknesses of these strategies in the hopes of sharing “wins” and finding areas of needed support. Several questions guided this analysis, including:

Therefore, the goal is not just to get young people jobs, but to produce more high school graduates with better credentials that improve their workplace options. (Ferguson, 2018). Mississippi State University Research and Curriculum Unit


1. Who do school districts task for the public relations and promotion of your CTE programs? 2. What marketing strategies do school districts to attract students to their CTE programs? 3. What methods do school districts use to communicate the value of CTE programs to parents? 4. Which CTE promotion strategies do school districts use more to increase industry involvement? 5. Where and how do school districts need more assistance in CTE public relations?

RESULTS The first question sought to determine who Mississippi school districts primarily task for the public relations and promotion of their CTE programs. As shown in Figure 1, CTE Counselors (40.74%) and CTE Administrators (29.63%) were the primary individuals who promote local CTE programs.

Figure 1. Breakdown of CTE promotion Current CTE Students 1.85% District Office 3.70% Other Counselor(s) 3.70%

CTE Counselor 40.74%

Individual Teachers 20.37% Director/Principal 29.63%

The second and third questions explored how CTE centers communicate value to students and parents. Districts rated from 1 (Never Use) to 5 (Always Use) various methods of promotion to students. The top four advertising strategies are listed in Table 1. In Table 2, the top four mechanisms CTE centers use to connect with parents are listed.

Table 1. CTE recruitment strategies for students




Network with academic counselors at local middle and high schools to recruit students



Provide opportunities for students to discover their career interests and direct them to a CTE program



Show the real value and promise of CTE by sharing facts of previous cases



Use the CTE center social media to recruit students



Mississippi State University Research and Curriculum Unit

Table 2. CTE communication strategies for parents Commonly Used Methods to Connect with Parents


Use CTE newsletters, district electronic messaging, and flyers


Use social media and school district website


Use parent nights, meetings, and open house events


Communicate past and current student success stories


Industry awareness of local programs is crucial to meet the skills gap that currently exists between businesses and secondary and postsecondary CTE programs (Graff, 2020). Schools should continue to work to expand their course offerings to create new opportunities for students and initiate new career pipelines to current and future industries to the regional areas around the CTE center. Districts approximated the frequency of use of different strategies to get industry involvement from 1 (Never) to 7 (Every Time). In Table 3, respondents highlighted that including business/industry leaders on CTE advisory committees (M = 6.09, SD = 1.21) and inviting industry leaders to make presentations and give lectures to CTE students on certain topics (M = 5.65, SD = 1.22) as the top two strategies used at least 70% of the time during the year.

Table 3. District CTE promotion strategies for industry M


Establish regular communication between teachers, students, and industry mentors



Host a career day that highlights local business/industry job opportunities



Include business/industry leaders on CTE advisory committees



Invite industry leaders to make presentations and give lectures to CTE students on certain topics



Seek out internship/job shadowing opportunities in local industry for students



Last, the researchers sought to identify areas of need for school districts as it relates to CTE promotion. Districts approximated the frequency of the needing help with CTE promotion from 1 (Never) to 7 (Every Time). In Table 4, respondents highlighted that creating templates for promotional materials (M = 4.29, SD = 1.67) and training for public relations/communications activities and best practices (M = 4.15, SD = 1.74) as the top two strategies where districts need assistance at least 40% of the time during the year.

Table 4. Areas of assistance for CTE promotion M


Compelling and trusted district- and school/center-level messengers to share information



Determining effective communication channels for CTE



Finding out what parents and students think about CTE



Improved career guidance and counseling resources



Increased communications staffing to handle social media, newsletters, and other materials



Templates for promotional materials



Training for public relations/communications activities and best practices



Mississippi State University Research and Curriculum Unit


Secondary CTE program leaders identified the need for assistance in CTE promotional material creation and the need for training for best practices in CTE public relations and communications.

Where Do We Go from Here? After review of the results from the survey of the CTE programs across the state of Mississippi, we can conclude that districts are using some of the recognized best practices in CTE marketing when it comes to advertising to potential students by meeting them on their turf using social media and embedding success stories coupled with labor market data (Washington STEM, 2018). CTE marketers should consider increasing social media usage using channels, including Instagram and Snapchat, for quick content delivery. CTE centers are also using a blended approach of open house events and marketing materials dissemination for parents and the community. State leaders should continue to provide more training opportunities and promotion toolkits for local CTE leaders to maximize the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns (Research and Curriculum Unit, 2020). Communicating the value and promise of what an effective CTE program can do for all secondary students is one of the pillars to a high-functioning public school system (Advance CTE, 2017; Fitzgerald, 2018). This type of plan takes a comprehensive approach that encompasses emphasizing real-world training, ensuring regular communication to all stakeholders, providing students a voice using the appropriate social media channels, identifying the most effective messengers of the marketing, and making the examples relevant to the consumer of the information (Howell et al., 2019).


BEST PRACTICES FOR MARKETING YOUR CTE PROGRAM • Use an inclusive messaging strategy when creating products, including industry guidebooks, that highlight your center’s or high school programs’ underrepresented groups (Williams, 2018). • Consider creating a special district CTE week outside of the typical ACTE CTE month promoting CTE programs. Use social media channels as the advertising media (Washington STEM, 2018). • Target parents and students at the elementary and middle school levels through focused messaging to underrepresented groups to boost enrollment numbers in areas of need (Williams, 2018). • Leverage your center’s alignment to regional community college offerings using localized CTE program guidebooks, student success videos, and one-pagers providing students and parents with a path past high school for all careers (Fitzgerald, 2018; Gottfried & Plasman, 2018; Howell et al., 2019).

Mississippi State University Research and Curriculum Unit

References Advance CTE. (2017). The value and promise of career technical education: Results from a national survey of parents and students. In Advance CTE Reports. Dougherty, S. M. (2016). Career and technical education in high school: Does it improve student outcomes? Thomas B. Fordham Institute Advancing Education Excellence, April, 1–45. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED570132 Ferguson, M. (2018). Washington view: The past, present, and future of CTE. Phi Delta Kappan, 100(2), 64–65. https://doi. org/10.1177/0031721718803575 Fitzgerald, K. (2018). Communicating the value and promise of CTE with parents and students. Techniques: Connecting Education & Careers, 93(2), 48–51. https://tinyurl.com/yy5zohf8 Gordon, H. R. D., & Schultz, D. (2020). The history and growth of career and technical education in America (Fifth Edit). Waveland Press. https://books.google.com/books?id=tQjaDwAAQBAJ Gottfried, M. A., & Plasman, J. S. (2018). Linking the timing of career and technical education coursetaking with high school dropout and college-going behavior. American Educational Research Journal, 55(2), 325–361. https://doi.org/10.3102/0002831217734805 Graff, R. (2020, November 14). Crossing the skills gap between industry 4.0 and CTE programs. Getting Smart. https://www.gettingsmart.com/2020/11/crossing-the-skills-gap-between-industry-4-0-and-cte-programs/ Howell, D., Serignese, M., Anderson, S., Dodson, R., McDowell, J., Miller, J., Newcomer, D., Sanders, R., & Shehan, B. (2019). Promoting the value of career education programs. Inquiry, 22(1). https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1224786 Hughes, K. (2020). Opportunities for innovation in research with Perkins V. Techniques: Connecting Education & Careers, 95(2), 14–15. https://tinyurl.com/y63ycfns Keily, T. (2019a). Career and technical education: What is the issue and why does it matter? Policy Snapshot. https://eric.ed.gov /?id=ED592376 Keily, T. (2019b). Policy snapshot career and technical education. https://www.ecs.org/career-and-technical-education/ Research and Curriculum Unit. (2020). Research and Curriculum Unit > Communications > CTE Promotion. https://www.rcu.msstate. edu/Communications/CTEPromotion.aspx Washington STEM. (2018). CTE marketing best practices & campaigns. https://www.washingtonstem.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/CTE-Marketing-Playbook.pdf Williams, B. (2018). The power of micromessages in marketing, recruitment and success in CTE. Techniques: Connecting Education & Careers, 93(2), 44–47.

Mississippi State University Research and Curriculum Unit


The Research and Curriculum Unit at Mississippi State University is an educational research center designed to research and support Mississippi’s needs and practices in career and technical education since 1963. This material is based upon work supported by the Mississippi Department of Education. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Mississippi Department of Education.