Political polarization, mis/disinformation, and the lack of civil deliberation are affecting campus climates across the country, while at the same time trust in colleges and universities is on the decline. Against this backdrop, how are higher education institutions thinking about their role in stewarding democratic principles and civic engagement, and what are they doing to shape informed, active citizens?

AASCU Logo.To begin answering those questions, today we are thrilled to share that Ithaka S+R is collaborating with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities on a research project focused on assessing the link between civic engagement, higher education, and democratic participation. Specifically, the project will investigate a series of research questions:

  • What is the impact of postsecondary education on civic engagement and democratic attitudes and behaviors?
  • How have researchers defined, operationalized, and measured civic engagement in the context of higher education?
  • How are postsecondary institutions and key stakeholders institutionalizing civic engagement as part of their curricular and co-curricular programming?

Given that regional public universities educate a large share of students of color and low income, first generation, and non-traditional students, we are particularly interested in their work in this space. How do these universities see their role in upholding democratic principles, and how do they put into practice civic learning, deliberative pedagogy, and engagement with their communities?

To this end, Ithaka S+R will conduct a landscape review of the link between civic engagement, democratic participation, and higher education. We will synthesize the latest research on the correlation between postsecondary education and democratic participation, with a focus on the role higher education plays in fostering civic discourse, decreasing authoritarian tendencies, and driving participation in democratic processes and trust in government institutions. We will contextualize the role that regional public universities play within the larger higher education civic engagement sphere, and review how college campuses are defining and designing programming geared toward civic engagement, with a special focus on AASCU’s nonpartisan American Democracy Project.

We look forward to sharing our findings in Spring of 2024.