Education News

Houston School District Ramps Up Advertising Campaign To Stem Enrollment Decline

This fall, HISD expects to lose about 1,500 students, in addition to some 4,000 who left last year.

Students at Lyons Elementary school pass by logos for major universities on their way to lunch in this 2013 photo. HISD is trying to tout sending students to top tier colleges in its new marketing campaign.

The Houston Independent School District is ramping up an advertising campaign to stem a drop in enrollment — and will soon get some outside help.

HISD has already launched ads in movie theaters, and on billboards, buses and other platforms to lure back families — and make sure more don’t leave. In 2019, HISD plans to keep up those aggressive marketing efforts to highlight academic opportunities across schools, from pre-kindergarten to getting into college.

In the fall, researchers at the University of Houston and Rice University’s Houston Education Research Consortium will try to find out from families how they decide where to enroll their children.

“There’s a lot that contributes to what ultimately rises to the top in terms of a parent or a family member’s prioritization of a school that they really want their kid in,” said Cathy Horn, who directs the Institute for Educational Policy Research at UH.

That includes location, academics and how easily a family can move to their top school choice.

This fall, HISD expects to lose about 1,500 students, in addition to some 4,000 who left last year.

District administrators told board members earlier this year that part of that enrollment decline is because of increasing competition from charter schools, such as KIPP, YES Prep and Harmony Public Schools.

However, some advocates say the aggressive marketing campaign alone won’t solve enrollment woes at Houston schools.

“These efforts need to be paired with a collaborative school board, a focus on student outcomes and a continued push for excellence in order to be successful. Billboards will not encourage enrollment nearly as much as great schools,” the advocacy group Houstonians for Great Public Schools posted on social media.

Still, Horn at UH said it’s worth shining a light on what is working, especially since those positive steps can be overlooked.

“Good schools are what fundamentally draw families to want to be in them. Sometimes messages about good schools get drowned out by general messages about the struggles that schools broadly face,” Horn said.

She hopes that researchers will be able to share what they learn about how families make decisions about schools with other districts in the Greater Houston region.

HISD has already put up billboards across the city to highlight its graduates attending top tier universities.

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Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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