A main objective of US higher education has long been to prepare college and university students to participate in and strengthen democracy, and student voting rates are one indicator of how well institutions are fulfilling this civic mission. Student voting also matters because students are part of a formidable voting bloc. Students, of course, are not a monolithic group, but with this kind of power, they can shape policy for decades. Why not start now? Moreover, because college and university students are increasingly racially and ethnically diverse, low income, and first generation, bolstering student voting can help reduce equity gaps in political voice and participation.
What can the 2020 elections tell us about student voting and how colleges and universities should prepare for the upcoming 2022 midterm elections? The National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) offers some key insights. An initiative of the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE), located at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life, NSLVE is a one-of-a-kind study of student civic engagement and participation in democracy. Currently, roughly 1,200 colleges and universities participate in this free study, which matches student enrollment records and publicly available voting files. Campuses receive a tailored voting report that details in the aggregate how many students registered to vote and voted after each federal election. Voting rates are disaggregated by demographic data (age, class level, sex, race/ethnicity, and more) and field of study. Campuses can use their NSLVE reports to identify and close equity gaps in participation, as a teaching tool, as a benchmark to improve student civic learning, and for accreditation purposes. IDHE uses the NSLVE dataset of around eleven million students for each election to study patterns and equity gaps in voting. Here, we highlight key findings from the 2020 election and offer recommendations for preparing students to vote this November.
To learn more or to join the study, visit idhe.tufts.edu/nslve.
Illustrations by Joan Alturo