Report: How to increase voting and strengthen political learning on college campuses

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"Election Imperatives" challenges universities to improve democratic engagement for 2018 midterms and beyond; major higher education associations endorse report
Tufts students vote at their local precinct in the city of Somerville, Mass. (Anna Miller, Tufts University)

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Jen McAndrew

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (Aug. 9, 2018)Amid amplified interest in the upcoming midterm elections, a new report released today by the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE) at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life outlines specific steps to increase electoral engagement, political learning and civic participation at colleges and universities across the country.

"Election Imperatives: Ten Recommendations to Increase College Student Voting and Improve Political Learning and Engagement in Democracy" is informed by IDHE's widely recognized research, including the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement (NSLVE), which provides student registration and turnout rates of more 10 million students in more than 1,100 participating institutions.

Read the full report here.

The report calls on students, faculty, administrators, and senior leadership to support and promote democratic participation and civic engagement in the United States and on the nation's college campuses. It details how colleges and universities can increase voting and connect elections with student learning; suggests responsibilities for various stakeholders; provides specific examples of activities and initiatives; and offers dozens of resources to aid implementation. The report also encourages university leaders to adapt these recommendations to the circumstances and climates on their own campuses.

"As the higher education community seeks to encourage students' civic engagement on campus and their lifelong political participation, this important report provides a research-based road map to move us forward," said Anthony P. Monaco, president of Tufts. "I am committed to implementing these recommendations at Tufts University."

Directed to higher education leaders and faculty, the recommendations include:

  • Realign election activities and institutional priorities to be consistent with the long-term goals of political learning, discourse and inclusive participation in democracy.
  • Identify and address technical, statutory and non-statutory barriers to voting like difficulty obtaining absentee ballots, inconvenient polling locations and state voter-ID requirements.
  • Talk politics across campus -- inside and outside of the classroom -- and discuss policy issues, social conflicts and campus controversies with students to improve dialogue and conflict resolution skills and to advance inclusion and free expression.
  • Empower students to create a buzz around the election, cultivating an environment in which registration and voting is expected and exciting.

"This report provides a step-by-step guide for colleges and universities to meet their responsibility to educate students for democracy," says Nancy Thomas, director of IDHE. "We believe that institutions that implement these recommendations will not just increase voting rates in the upcoming election but will permanently improve campus discourse, advance equity, enhance their students' agency, and strengthen civic life at their institutions and in the country."

"Election Imperatives" is endorsed by and disseminated in conjunction with 11 important higher education organizations, including the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), Campus Compact and NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. These associations will encourage their member campuses to adopt the recommendations in the report.

"American higher education was founded on a commitment to educating for democracy," said Lynn Pasquerella, president of AAC&U. "At a time when partisan divides are greater than they have been in fifty years, it is more critical than ever to ensure every voice is heard. AAC&U is proud to partner with the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education in supporting 'Election Imperatives.'"

The IDHE, part of Tufts University's Tisch College, serves as a leading venue for research, resources and advocacy on college student political learning and engagement in democratic practice. Through research, resource development and convening, they strive to inform and shift college and university priorities, practices and culture to strengthen democracy and advance social and political equity.

In the coming months, the IDHE will continue to share data and resources to inform election-related learning on college campuses for the 2018 elections and to support the broader goal of long-term political learning and participation in higher education.

Learn more at https://idhe.tufts.edu, or on Twitter at .

IDHE leaders and researchers are available for interviews. Media outlets should contact: Jen McAndrew at jennifer.mcandrew@tufts.edu or 617-627-2029/781-605-9917.

[Editors/producers please note: NSLVE is pronounced "N-Solve."]

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About Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life

The only university-wide college of its kind, the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life offers transformational student learning and service opportunities, conducts groundbreaking research on young people's civic and political participation and forges innovative community partnerships. Its work is guided by two core beliefs: that communities, nations and the world are stronger, more prosperous and more just when citizens actively participate in civic and democratic life; and that higher education has a responsibility to develop the next generation of active citizens. Learn more at http://tischcollege.tufts.edu and on Twitter at .

About Tufts University

Tufts University, located on campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville and Grafton, Massachusetts, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university's schools is widely encouraged.

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