CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement)
conducts research on the civic and political engagement of young Americans.
Stay Connected:
The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement

National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement FAQ


What is NSLVE?

The National Study of Learning, Voting, & Engagement (NSLVE) is a new, national research initiative that gives colleges and universities an opportunity to learn the aggregate registration and voting rates of their students. By participating, institutions will help build a national database for future research on learning experiences that cultivate deep civic knowledge and a commitment to public engagement. Participation is free, confidential, easy, and protective of student privacy.

What is CIRCLE?

NSLVE is an initiative of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University. Established in 2001 based on a recommendation of the National Commission on Civic Renewal, CIRCLE conducts research on civic education in schools, colleges, and community settings and on young Americans’ voting and political participation, service, activism, media use, and other forms of civic engagement. Read more about CIRCLE’s history and research here.

Why should my institution participate?

NSLVE’s goals are to:

  • study patterns in college student voting,
  • provide campuses with valuable data on student civic/political engagement,
  • build a national database for future research, and
  • correlate learning experiences with political engagement.

Each participating college or university will receive a tailored, confidential report reflecting the percentage of students that registered to vote, the percentage that voted, whether they voted locally or elsewhere, and their voting method (traditional or absentee ballot) in 2012. CIRCLE can also correlate voting with other data elements such as field of study. If enough colleges and universities participate, institutions can also learn valuable comparisons with (anonymized) peer institutions or established groups of institutions.

How does it work?

CIRCLE has formed a partnership with the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit organization established by the higher education community in 1993 to provide educational reporting, verification, and research on behalf of its participating institutions. Over 3300 colleges and universities in the U.S. send enrollment records to the Clearinghouse, and undoubtedly your institution does too.

Whether a person registered to vote and voted (not how they voted) are matters of public record, but because voting records are inconsistently maintained by states and municipalities, they can be hard to track down. Several organizations compile voting records. We’ve selected an organization called Catalist, which continually collects local and state records into one comprehensive national database that is widely respected and used for academic research. The Clearinghouse will access the Catalist database, make the match, remove any personally identifiable information, and then send de-identified data to CIRCLE.

CIRCLE will not learn who your students are, much less whether individual student voted. CIRCLE will do the analysis and send each participating college or university aggregate data in a tailored, confidential report.

Is this a survey?

No.  You do not have to administer a survey to your students.

Do we need to compile enrollment lists?

No.  All you need to do is sign the authorization form and send us a signed copy.

How much does NSLVE cost?

Nothing. It’s free.

What do we need to do to participate?

You must opt in. Participation is not automatic, but it is easy. Simply download this authorization form, sign it and send a scanned copy to

Is there a deadline for signing up?

We recommend signing up this year (2014) to receive your 2012 and 2014 voting rate data in May 2015.

Who should sign the authorization form?

The Clearinghouse accepts forms signed by a president/chancellor, vice president, provost, dean, enrollment officer, or the director of institutional research.

For how long is the authorization form valid?

The form is valid through 2016.

How can we get the most out of our participation?

We know that your institution’s numbers will have more significance once you receive 2014 and 2016 data. In the meantime, you can also increase the value of your report by adding data elements to the student records you submit to the Clearinghouse.

What data elements may we add?

The Clearinghouse’s systems allow you to submit field of study, class level (sophomore, graduate), race/ethnicity (including nonresident alien status), and gender.  See also the Q & A on FERPA AND STUDENT PRIVACY, below.

When can we expect a report?

You will receive a report in May 2015, with your voting data for the 2012 and 2014 elections.  You will also receive a report with data for the 2016 elections when they occur.

Who receives the report?

The individual you designate on the authorization form. For example, some senior officers are signing the form but are having the report sent to the person responsible for civic learning and engagement. Please note that we only send one report to each campus.

Will you send us our student lists, with voting and registration information per student?

No. Campuses receive aggregate data only. Remember, CIRCLE doesn’t have your actual lists — only de-identified lists.

How will the results be used?

Reports to campuses are confidential. We may identify your campus as a participating institution, but we will not disclose your institution’s data.

CIRCLE will compile voting rates by institution, study comparisons, and report patterns in aggregate numbers. We will only report data or comparisons in ways that preserve the confidentiality of each participating institution’s rates.

How can we use the data?

You are welcome to use the data as you choose, publicizing the results, adding relevance to coursework, including them in “fact sheets,” sharing them with peer institutions, studying the effectiveness of your academic programs, or keeping them confidential and comparing 2012 and 2014 with future years. Prospective students might like to know voting rates, and admissions offices might like to publicize them.


What are the details regarding student privacy rights and FERPA compliance?

If you want a more detailed analysis reflecting the actual law, click here.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) allows colleges and universities to share student lists and certain identifying information, and that sharing occurs all the time for research purposes. We’ve created extra layers to protect student privacy by using the Clearinghouse, an organization that already has up-to-date student enrollment lists.

To make a match with voting records, the Clearinghouse needs three data elements, all “directory information” under FERPA: student name, date-of-birth, and address. The Clearinghouse will make the match, export the voting data, remove personally identifiable information by replacing names with specially-assigned identification numbers, DOBs with age at the time of the election, and addresses with zip codes, and then send the de-identified lists to CIRCLE.

My institution sends other information to the Clearinghouse, specifically class level (sophomore, graduate students) and field of study. Will you use it?

If you currently supply class level and field of study to the Clearinghouse, we can correlate these fields with voting.

My institution adheres to a stricter policy regarding student privacy, and some of these data fields are not designated as “directory information.” Will you obtain and use this data?

Not without your expressed permission.  If you do not want to fill out the detailed authorization form for non-directory information, but still would like to participate, you can download a basic authorization form here.

We do not currently submit these additional data elements (field of study, class level, race/ethnicity/nonresident alien, and gender) to the Clearinghouse but we want CIRCLE to consider them.  Can you do that?

Not unless you send this data to the Clearinghouse. We recommend you send it in. We can run the 2012 numbers again, and it will make a difference for 2014 and 2016.

How do you handle students who don’t want their information used for any purpose?

Some students “check the FERPA box” when they enroll, indicating that they do not want their names or other directory information used for any purpose. The Clearinghouse already has that information and will remove from the list any students who have “checked the box.”

For how long and where will the data be stored, and how secure is it?

The Clearinghouse will store the data in a secured setting for five years to allow for comparisons with the next election cycle. After five years, the records will be destroyed.

The Clearinghouse adheres to a comprehensive information security program, including administrative, technical, and physical safeguards. To read more about the Clearinghouse’s privacy and security measures, go to:

CIRCLE will store its de-identified data in a secured system for the duration of the study. The data will be destroyed within five years of the date the study ends.

May we tailor our research?

Yes. We want to work with a limited number of colleges and universities interested in examining specific student civic learning experiences or correlating student activities with public engagement. And we’d like to work with institutions with unusually high voting rates to learn “what worked,” including programs, activities, and circumstances that might be replicable.

How do we pursue a special study?

First, sign up.

Then, contact NSLVE director Nancy Thomas for more information.

Where do we go if we have other questions?

You can e-mail with questions.