Getting to Know Advance CTE and Top Messages to Recruit Learners of Color

The “Getting to Know” blog series will feature the work of State CTE Directors, state and federal policies, innovative programs and new initiatives from the Advance CTE staff. Learn more about each one of these topics and the unique contributions to advancing Career Technical Education (CTE) that Advance CTE’s members work on every day.

Meet Stacy Whitehouse! Stacy is the Senior Associate for Communications and State Engagement at Advance CTE and supports strategic communications for the organization’s initiatives. Stacy oversees the organization’s media relations strategy and provides communications guidance to states through technical assistance. She serves as the project lead for Advance CTE’s most recent round of communications research on communicating CTE to families and learners, supported by the Siemens Foundation.

Q: Recently, Advance CTE released new research that tested messages for attracting students and families to CTE, particularly those from historically marginalized communities. How was this research conducted with equity in mind?

A: The most recent release of our communications research followed up on similar work released in 2017. For the second round of research, we intentionally designed the national survey to elevate equity considerations by disaggregating all questions and oversampling Black and Latinx families and families experiencing low income. The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic forced all focus groups into a virtual environment, allowing for a more equitable pool of participants to be sampled.

The research analysis matters as much as the research design. Our research analysis didn’t shy away from finding and elevating existing equity considerations both in message tailoring and in identifying equity and access gaps. Overall, we were pleased to see that many of the findings and messages resonated across race, ethnicity, gender, income and participation in CTE. 

Q: Which key messages from the research are most important to elevate with learners from historically marginalized communities? 

A: The top messages in this research resonated with families and learners across race, ethnicity and income: CTE learners gain real-world skills, explore careers to find their passion, and have more options for college and career success. 

However, the findings indicate that some messages should be elevated more than others. In particular, the value of CTE in jumpstarting and preparing learners for postsecondary education is important because our findings indicate historically marginalized populations participating in CTE were significantly more likely to plan to complete a two or four year degree than those considering CTE. 

Additionally, messages about CTE’s value in making connections with like-minded peers, instructors and employers resonated more strongly with Black and Latinx learners than White learners. This is especially encouraging for CTE’s potential to close historic equity gaps that are crucial to career advancement. 

Q: What did the research findings identify as one area of opportunity for CTE to meet the needs of Black and Latinx learners?

A: We were pleased to find that families participating in CTE achieved equitable levels of satisfaction across almost all aspects of their education experience, including quality of classes and teachers, opportunities for advanced classes, and opportunities to explore careers and build skills. 

However, one area that emerged as needing significant improvement for Black and Latinx learners were opportunities for internships, as well as opportunities to make connections and network with employers. While White learners in CTE achieved satisfaction levels 30 percentage points higher than White learners not in CTE, Latinx learners were only about 10 percentage points more satisfied and Black learners achieved no increase at all. This is concerning considering that “making connections” is a popular message among Black and Latinx learners; that message cannot fully resonate unless we improve the quality and equity of opportunities to make connections and network with employers. 

Earlier this year we released a framework that provides five action areas for states to focus on when working to advance equity in work-based learning systems. 

Q: There are a variety of avenues for families to get information about CTE both in and outside of school. Was there a difference between trusted sources for varying learner populations? 

A: Teachers and school counselors were consistently chosen as the top sources for information about CTE by families both considering and participating in CTE. However, there were a couple of slight nuances that emerged in the findings. 

First, Black and Latinx families were more likely to identify online sources of information, such as Google searches and school searches, as a top source for information about CTE than White families. Local and state leaders can capitalize on this finding by using accessible terminology, offering language translation, providing access for all abilities, and utilizing multiple platforms to ensure information about CTE is accessible to each family at any time. 

Second, Black and Latinx parents/guardians were significantly more likely to choose school counselors as a top source than Black and Latinx learners. The research doesn’t provide concrete answers for this gap, but it does reinforce the importance of relationship building and diversity for these trusted sources. 

Q: Are there any further considerations for CTE leaders when communicating with historically marginalized populations? 

A: I’d like to elevate two points: 1) the importance of representation in trusted messengers and 2) incorporating learner voice in the communications process. Our research showed teachers and school counselors are top sources, but historically marginalized learners need to see themselves in these sources so each learner can feel welcome and heard in these programs, particularly career pathways with historically large representation gaps. 

Just as these findings came directly from families and learners, CTE programs, outreach events, materials and communication campaigns need to include learners in the design, execution and evaluation to ensure the initiatives are reaching and resonating with their intended audiences. I’m excited that this research is another opportunity to build routines for learner-centered systems.

Brittany Cannady, Senior Associate Digital Media

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