Five Marketing Ideas to Capitalize on the CTE Renaissance

It’s Renaissance time for Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs across the nation. Following a year marked by seismic gains in funding and deserved recognition from both the state and federal government, CTE programs are now poised to impact more students, employers and communities than ever before.

On the national level, Congressman Glenn Thompson, R-PA, the chief sponsor of the failed 2016 bipartisan legislation reauthorizing the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, said he will be reintroducing the legislation. The law provides over $1 billion in federal support for career and technical education programs across the country. Meanwhile, in California, an unprecedented $200 million in new Strong Workforce Program state funds will spur “more and better” career technical education amongst the state’s 113 community colleges. Even the nation’s controversial new secretary of education Betsy DeVos praised CTE programs in her first speech on higher education, noting the “importance of expanding vocational and technical education, the types of career and technical education that community colleges excel at.”

Money and Recognition is Up, Enrollment is Down
With the spotlight turned on CTE as a way to counter the national growing skills gap, one would expect that students would be flocking to community colleges. However, while some community colleges have experienced growth in these programs, the National Student Clearinghouse (2016) reports a nationwide decline in community college enrollment and in its 2014 final report to Congress, the National Assessment of Career and Technical Education notes that, while some programs such as health sciences and public services have seen increases in enrollments, overall CTE course taking has declined, especially in manufacturing and business.

It’s Time to Turn to Marketing
Community colleges must now turn to their marketing departments to tell the CTE story in a way that convinces students that enrolling in these programs will lead to successful careers. While the time is right to invest in marketing, with so many choices — television and radio ads, YouTube and Pandora, social media, traditional print ads, etc. — colleges often find it tough to pinpoint what will give them the most bang for their buck.

“Community colleges need program marketing, not ‘Field of Dreams’ marketing,” says Dr. Pam Cox-Otto, CEO and founder of Interact Communications, the nation’s only full-service communications agency working exclusively with community colleges. “It’s not enough to simply offer the programs, colleges much actively engage with potential students and the community to tell the story of CTE.”

Five Approaches to Marketing CTE
A smart strategy for colleges is to invest in developing strategic marketing plans that mix aggressive advertising with marketing strategies that can be used for years to come. Following are five ideas colleges can use to develop long-term collateral that will help promote CTE and grow enrollment.

#1 — Brand Your CTE Programs
Ensure your marketing and public relations strategies are consistent and professional by taking the time to evaluate and strengthen your college’s CTE brand. With a strong brand and consistent messaging, your CTE marketing strategies will help to drive enrollment, promote programs across various populations, and improve perceptions of CTE programs in your community.

#2 — Develop Exclusive CTE Marketing Materials
When your faculty or outreach departments attend career fairs, visit high schools or answer inquiries from potential students, do they have professional materials to share? Even in today’s digital world, print materials play an important role in college selection and perceptions. Develop a program brochure for each CTE program and/or develop a CTE view book that showcases your programs in one exceptional publication.

#3 — Create Videos Showcasing Each of Your CTE Programs
There is no doubt that video is one of the most powerful ways to show off your college. By creating short, energetic videos for each of your CTE programs, you can showcase your college’s work on various platforms — social media, YouTube, your college website — and in presentations. You can also take the short videos you’ve created and combine them into a longer, powerful video that speaks to the excellence of all career and technical programs at your college. Imagine playing something like this at local chamber meetings, to your elected officials or at your college’s convocation!

#4 — Invest in Your CTE Websites
Your college website is the front door into your institution for many students. The 2016 E-Expectations survey of more than 3,000 college-bound students found that close to 70 percent of students consider a college’s website to be a resource that influences their interest in a college. Your college’s CTE pages should contain resources that help a student make the choice to attend your college.

#5 — Strengthen Your CTE Public Relations Infrastructure
There is never a shortage of great stories at community colleges. The problem is having the time and resources to tell them all and manage the media interested in distribution. Many organizations have turned to online News Centers, where excellent photography is mixed with great storytelling. Once they have a News Center built, organizations use those rich stories in targeted e-newsletters to potential and current students, business leaders, professional organizations and even the news media. When it comes to telling your story, no one can do it better than you!

Of course, there are many other ways to showcase your CTE programs… for example, organizing CTE programs in clusters and highlighting programs in videos and booklets. Many colleges have had tremendous success with CTE-focused email campaigns to undecided students. A “real people, real stories” approach allows you to tell genuine success stories in a sincere, relatable way. By including both sides of the CTE perspective (program graduates and the business leaders who hire them), your materials can have a “two-fer” effect: raising the profile of CTE instruction in the business community and recruiting prospects at the same time.

Whatever your approach, start working on it now. The time is ripe for you to tell your CTE story and help students find their way to your doorstep.

About the Author

Cheryl Broom is president of Interact Communications (

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