How colleges can get more students to the polls

'Young people's potential to shape elections goes largely unfulfilled'

A few small initiatives by colleges and universities can boost voting rates and encourage civic engagement among students, argues one expert in The Conversation

Alan Solomont, dean of Tufts University's College of Citizenship and Public Service, says that research shows young people respond to invitations to participate in elections. These same people constitute a significant political force. 

Republicans with college degrees disagree with peers on policy

"On the other hand, young people's potential to shape elections goes largely unfulfilled," Solomont writes. Turnout among 18- to 29-year-old citizens hit its lowest rate in a federal election in 2014. While participation is usually higher in presidential election years, the same group saw a decline from 51% in 2008 to 45% in 2012.

However, people with some college experience were nearly two times more likely to vote than their non-college peers in the 2012 election.

Tisch College's National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) examines data from about 800 institutions in 48 states to study voting patterns and registration in correlation with campus practices and climate.

It found that in 2012, voter participation rates varied by major: Education majors voted at a 55% rate, while math and engineering majors did so at just 35%.

How colleges can boost student voter rates

Informing students, who are often first-time voters, how to register has been shown to boost rates, as has hosting debates and discussions.

"Evidence from national surveys shows that young people are more likely to vote if they have discussed current events in school, at home or with peers. The role of faculty in connecting political issues and policy debates into curriculum and pedagogy can be critical," Solomont writes.

At historically black Livingstone College, the school hosted an event with prizes, free food, music, and candidate presentations—resulting in about 400 of the approximately 1,000-person student body registering to vote.

Tufts held a similar event and the institution works with Democracy Works' TurboVote. Solomont writes that collaborating with campus groups, proving rides to polls, and supporting issue forums also help increase voter participation.

"The fact is that voting is habit-forming and is often a gateway to other forms of civic engagement," Solomont says. "At a time when young people face enormous challenges ... supporting them to vote will help raise a new generation of citizens who actively engage in our democracy," (Solomont, The Conversation, 3/8). 

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