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Higher Education

Institutions of Higher Education have important roles in teaching and encouraging civic engagement, not only among their own students but in the broader community.

CIRCLE Releases Four Fact Sheets on Civic Engagement and Higher Education

Previous research finds that college attendance is positively associated with civic engagement. For example, since 1972, voter turnout in presidential elections for young people who have some college experience has been 15 to 20 percentage points greater than voter turnout rates among young people with no college experience. This pattern may reflect a combination of at least three explanatory factors: the learning that occurs in college; the fact that more civically engaged students are more likely to succeed in school and then attend college; and the income, networks, and status that come from higher education.

CIRCLE has recently published several detailed fact sheets that update, refine, and in some respects complicate, our knowledge of the links between college education and civic engagement. The release of these new CIRCLE fact sheets is in conjunction with Campus Compact's 20th Anniversary celebration. Below are links to the four new fact sheets.

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College Students and Politics: A Literature Review

Nicholas V. Longo (Kettering Foundation) and Ross P. Meyer (New York University) review the literature on college students' political attitudes and behaviors

Download the literature review

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Higher Education: Civic Mission & Civic Effects

A consensus report by 22 scholars, jointly organized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and CIRCLE, explores the civic effects of attending college and the benefits of various approaches to civic learning in higher education. The authors represent the fields of political science, psychology, economics, philosophy, sociology, research in higher education, and women's studies. The report:

  • emphasizes that colleges and universities have a civic purpose
  • explores profound changes in the civic mission of universities since 1900
  • examines that somewhat ambiguous evidence about the effects of college attendance on students' civic knowledge and behavior
  • recommends certain approaches to teaching civic education at the college level
  • discusses some obstacles to civic education, and
  • outlines an agenda for further research

Download the consensus report

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College Attendance and Civic Engagement

A new CIRCLE fact sheet examines the link between college experience and civic engagement, including breakdowns by gender. The fact sheet is based mainly on data collected in the National Civic Engagement Survey (Spring 2002).

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The Role Universities Play in Developing Citizens

A new literature review by William Talcott examines the role that universities have played throughout history in developing citizens. The review covers a sample of formative texts on the broad topic of citizenship and the historical development of modern universities in the United States. The focus is primarily on major research universities, with the rationale that these have had disproportionate cultural and institutional influence over the development of higher education as a whole.

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Working College Students Have Highest Rates of Political Engagement

Young people who both study and work are busier than students who do not work. However, student-workers report higher levels of interest in politics, newspaper reading, talking politics with friends, engaging or practicing civic skills, having been asked to vote, making their views known, and political participation. Many student-workers appear to be pursuing bachelor's degrees, but they are also more engaged, more open to politics, and less likely to feel dissuaded by potential barriers to participation than their peers who are attending college full-time. Whether they work or not, students between the ages of 19 and 23 tend to be more politically engaged than their peers who are out of school and college altogether.

State Student Associations
A CIRCLE-funded report, "An Investigation of State Student Associations and Their Ability to Engage Students" by the Student Empowerment Training Project examines the role of State Students Associations (SSAs) in youth civic engagement. In addition, the report offers recommendations from highly successful SSAs.

A companion report, "Guide to State Student Associations" catalogues all SSAs currently in orperation and provides contact information for key staff.

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For more information on higher education and civic engagement see:

  • Campus Compact
  • In 2005, the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) included five questions on civic engagement, asked of 113,000 students at 449 institutions of higher education. See the 2005 Annual Report for details.
  • The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, program on Higher Education and the Development of Moral and Civic Responsibility (Website)
  • Center for Democracy and Citizenship at the Humphrey School, University of Minnesota
  • The Democracy Collaborative
  • See also: Virginia Chanley, Irasema Coronado, and Ashley Woodiwiss, "Universities as Sites of Citizenship and Civic Responsibility: A Report of the Pilot Phase of the Research" (on Wheaton College, Florida International University, and the University of Texas El Paso), in The Political Psychologist, vol. 7, no. 1 (Spring 2002), pp. 2-18.