Why colleges should invest in civic engagement

The newest, youngest voters (18-19) are consistently turning out at lower rates than slightly older peers. Universities can help this demographic become more engaged, strengthening our democracy.



August 24, 2021 - 10:36 AM

Kansas State University students volunteered in LaHarpe in 2019. COURTESY PHOTO

Last year was a win for youth voter participation. We saw the highest-ever turnout for young voters, with half of 18- to 29-year-olds casting ballots. (Only 39% did so in 2016.)

But 2020 also made it clear that we have a lot of work to do. Changes to voting laws add confusion. Political differences and polarization add tension. And while we should celebrate the record-high 50% youth turnout, that means 20 million young people still didn’t cast ballots.

Higher education institutions are in a unique position to engage young people, but civic engagement is often seen as beyond the purview of colleges and universities. This is a massive missed opportunity, for both higher ed institutions and our democracy.

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