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Career and Technical Education (CTE) | Career and Technical Student Organizations (CTSOs)

What Is a CTSO and How Do I Start a Chapter?

April 4th, 2023 | 7 min. read

Brad Hummel

Brad Hummel

Coming from a family of educators, Brad knows both the joys and challenges of teaching well. Through his own teaching background, he’s experienced both firsthand. As a writer for iCEV, Brad’s goal is to help teachers empower their students by listening to educators’ concerns and creating content that answers their most pressing questions about career and technical education.

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As a teacher in a career and technical education (CTE) program, you might have heard about getting involved in a Career and Technical Student Organization (CTSO) and starting a chapter at your school.

But exactly what is a CTSO? How can you get involved, and how do you go about affiliating a chapter?

In this article, you'll learn more about Career and Technical Student Organizations. Specifically, we'll seek to answer the following questions:

  1. What Is a Career and Technical Student Organization (CTSO)?
  2. How Do I Start a CTSO Chapter?
  3. How Do I Get Students Involved?
  4. How Do I Build a Student Leadership Team?

After reading, you'll know more about the steps involved in creating, affiliating, and growing a CTSO chapter. You'll also learn how you can get students involved in a CTE organization as part of a student engagement strategy. 

1. What Is a Career and Technical Student Organization (CTSO)?

CTSO stands for Career and Technical Student Organization. CTSOs are an essential component of CTE instruction because they give students opportunities to develop professional skills that will help in their careers while building connections with likeminded peers.

Currently, the Association for Career and Technical Education recognizes eight student organizations catering to several different career clusters:

  • Business Professionals of America (BPA), an organization that serves students in the Business Management and Administration and Information Technology career clusters.

  • DECA, a professional group for students interested in entrepreneurship, marketing, finance, hospitality and management.

  • Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), an association that provides leadership opportunities for students in Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS).

  • Future Business Leaders of America—Phi Beta Lambda (FBLA-PBL),  an organization that promotes leadership and service among secondary and postsecondary business students.

  • National FFA Organization (FFA), the leading national organization of students pursuing careers in agriculture, food, and natural resources.

  • HOSA—Future Health Professionals, an association that helps students develop professional skills to serve in the healthcare industry.

  • Skills USA, an educational organization for students pursuing opportunities in trade, technical and skilled service occupations, including health occupations.

  • Technical Student Association (TSA), a national association of students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics pathways.

Depending on their chosen career path, students can get involved in one or more of these professional associations.

Becoming connected with a CTE student organization can be a highly beneficial part of a student's education. In general, students who participate in CTSO organizations show higher levels of motivation, academic engagement and career aspirations.

2. How Do I Start a CTSO Chapter?

While starting a CTSO as an advisor can be intimidating, there are many resources within each organization to support new chapters.

To start a CTE organization chapter at your school, begin by identifying the state-approved CTSO that best aligns with your CTE content area. Next, locate the organization's information about the operating requirements for a chapter. This information can usually be found on the state's organization website (start with a simple google search with your state and the name of the association).

Most state CTSO websites identify representatives or regional supervisors who you can contact with any questions. Additionally, it may help to reach out to local chapters' advisors to hear about their experiences. Each CTE student organization chapter is unique in size, goals and school support system, so consider how their experiences may relate to your own school.

Now that you've identified which CTSO to bring to your campus, it's important to obtain school and district approval.

Before this meeting, be prepared with the organization's philosophy, mission and connections to the curriculum. When approaching administration, be familiar with the literature supporting CTSOs and how it can directly support students. It is also helpful to review the organization's handbook and guide to starting a chapter to be equipped to answer any questions.

3. How Do I Get Students Involved?

Once the new chapter has been approved, it is time to start recruiting members!

One of the easiest places to start is with the students in your classes. Take class time to share information about the organization, how it relates to the content and where students can learn more information. It may also help to integrate CTSO competitions into class activities so students are exposed to all the association offers.

 Additionally, hold an informational meeting at lunch or after school to connect with other students. Be sure to publicize the informational meeting using all school communications such as daily announcements, flyers, bulletins, the school website and informational calls to parents.

At the meeting, discuss the benefits of being a member of the organization, the opportunities for personal growth, conferences, competitive events and answer any questions. If possible, it may also be helpful to have a CTSO state representative or director there to help you field any questions.

4. How Do I Build a Student Leadership Team?

Now that a group of students are interested in joining the CTE organization, it is time to develop a student leadership team.

CTSOs are student-led, meaning the student leadership team guides the chapter and its activities. The leadership team should mimic the state and national organization structure, which usually consists of a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer and parliamentarian.

The first thing the advisor and student leadership team should do is draft a chapter constitution and bylaws. These items determine how the chapter will conduct business and handle issues that may arise. Common items within the constitution include officer duties, election procedures, meeting schedules and member responsibilities.

Most CTE student organizations provide a template for these two documents. Once the constitution and bylaws are written, they must be ratified by the membership and then maintained by the leadership team.

Once you've established your constitution and leadership team, it is time to affiliate the chapter with the national office to be considered official and participate in sponsored events. Most CTSOs require an application to the state and national offices. Be sure to check the state and national organization websites to identify deadlines.

Additionally, affiliation requires student members to pay a membership fee, so work with school administration to determine if this fee will be student-paid, school-paid or done with fundraising activities. Only students affiliated with the state and national organizations can participate in competitions and conferences.

Once you have affiliated members and an established chapter structure, work with the leadership team to develop a calendar of activities to engage members throughout the school year.

Consider activities that will continue to generate student interest in content related to the CTSO, such as:

  • Guest speakers
  • Hands-on learning
  • Large group discussions
  • Community service
  • Leadership competitions
  • Mini CTSO competitions

Activities specific to student interests and needs tend to be the most successful events. If you are confident in your leadership team, make individual members or partners responsible for each meeting, and support them in their planning.

Make Your CTSO Chapter Part of Your Student Engagement Strategy

Becoming involved in a Career and Technical Student Organization can make a huge difference in a student's academic and professional career. By learning industry-specific skills and professional qualities early, they'll have collaborative know-how they'll need to succeed in the future.

As a middle or high school CTE teacher, starting a CTSO chapter is one way to engage and celebrate your students and develop prepared and certified graduates. By following the steps in this article, you'll be well on your way to ensuring their success.

But CTE student organizations are just one of many strategies successful teachers use to increase student engagement in their classrooms. In fact, teachers often use multiple strategies to capture learners' attention.

If you would like to boost students' interest in your CTE program so that they're better prepared for certifications and work opportunities, download your free student engagement guide. You'll learn tips and tricks that will help you manage your classroom and keep learners motivated.

Get Your eBook: Boost Engagement in Your Classroom