A recent study revealed that community college students who take political science classes are more likely to register to vote, turn out to vote, and understand constitutional checks and balances.
As a political science professor who cares deeply about civic health, political competence, and improving disparities in voter turnout, this finding is good news for democracy. It showcases how higher education can and does contribute to improving civic engagement among undergraduates. And while this community college data remains promising, it would be of great value to extend its coverage to four-year colleges and universities, for many leaders and political ideas emerge from institutions of higher education as well.
Fortunately, new data from College Pulse supports the findings of the community college survey. Released this September, this survey sampled over 1,500 college students nationally. The data show that some widely held understandings about political participation, such as disparities in participation by race and socio-economic status, are not true among college and university students whatsoever. Moreover, the data confirm that social science majors are more likely to be registered voters than non-social science majors, suggesting that students’ academic focus may have some impact on their political behavior. The data also reveals that seventy percent of student respondents are currently registered to vote. Even after the highly contentious 2020 election and record-high levels of engagement and turnout, 30 percent of students are not registered to vote as of the fall of 2021.