New IR Tool: Student Voting Data

Is “educating responsible citizens” part of your institution’s mission? How do you know whether your students fulfill their role as active citizens?

A new tool is available that allows institutional researchers to learn how many of your students registered to vote, voted, and how (absentee or regular ballot) in 2012. These data can drive conversations about the effectiveness of civic learning experiences on campus and about increasing student political engagement in 2014 and 2016.


In 2012, the U.S. Department of Education issued a Call to Action to “reinvigorate civic learning and engagement in democracy” in response to the Obama Administration’s commitment to this priority as part of the national education agenda.

The civic mission and development of an informed citizenry has been part of the fabric of American higher education throughout its history. Social responsibility is widely accepted as a critical component of student learning. However, to date there have been few ways for individual campuses to demonstrate with data that myriad efforts in this arena lead to achievement of the broad goal of student civic engagement. 

“Measuring civic engagement is an up-and-coming issue in my state. There has been a call to track it but no specifics yet on how. This may be one source of information.” — AIR Member
There are many ways citizens can be involved in democracy, including the fundamental act of voting. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) recently launched the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) to help colleges and universities gauge students’ participation in democracy.

What are CIRCLE and NSLVE?

Established in 2001 based on a recommendation of the National Commission on Civic Renewal, CIRCLE quickly earned its reputation for reliable, independent, timely research. CIRCLE’s research is widely cited in scholarly publications and most national news media ranging from The New York Times to CNN. CIRCLE’s special publications, such as The Civic Mission of Schools report (jointly published with Carnegie Corporation of New York, 2003), Higher Education: Civic Mission & Civic Effects (jointly published with The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in 2006), and Peter Levine’s book The Future of Democracy (2007) have changed the public discourse on how citizens, particularly young people, engage in civic and political life, and the kinds of programs and activities in schools and colleges that foster student civic learning and engagement in democracy.

NSLVE uses a secure, confidential system to match enrollment lists with public records to obtain voting rates. The project does not have access to students’ names, personal information, or how students vote. (For more information about privacy issues and FERPA compliance, visit the NSLVE FAQ).

Participating institutions receive aggregate data about student voting rates, and, if enough institutions participate, aggregate comparison data from peer institutions. The data are de-identified; the study examines rates and patterns, not how individual students vote. Furthermore, NSLVE can work with campuses to design tailored research and address specific lines of inquiry.

How can my institution participate?

NSLVE is grant-funded, and there is no cost for participating. To sign up, institutions simply download an authorization form and fax it to the National Student Clearinghouse, which will match enrollment lists with a national database of registration and voting records. The Clearinghouse will remove personally identifying information and send de-identified data to CIRCLE.

Campuses must sign up by March 15, 2013, and CIRCLE anticipates issuing confidential institutional reports by June 1, 2013. Questions can be directed to the project director, Nancy Thomas.

How does your campus measure students’ civic learning and political engagement? How would NSLVE data be useful? Share your thoughts and questions below.




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Total Comments: 7
Marlene posted on 1/16/2013 6:12 PM
This sounds very promising...thank you for the tip on this new tool!
Laura posted on 1/17/2013 8:40 AM
It is incredible that this data is available; I had no idea. Thank you for sharing!
Mark posted on 1/17/2013 7:34 PM
"We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character -- that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate."

With these words, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. succinctly captures the essence of many of our shared missions of education. We are all in the business of turning out students of character who are inclined towards civic learning and engagement with democracy.

The NSLVE will be a useful tool to gauge our students’ character development through democratic involvement with the simple fundamental metric of voting – a right that we can never take for granted!
Mike posted on 1/18/2013 4:53 AM
This looks great. Unless there are security or confidentiality concerns, it looks like a no-brainer to decide to participate.

Which is the one downside: they may get flooded with participants, and will have to produce a huge number of reports, especially if there are a number of consortia or special studies being requested. I wonder what their capacity is ... how fast can they churn out the reports? Maybe instead of joining a consortium (their website says that multi-institutional comparisons will take longer), maybe it would be better to settle for a generic report, and the members of the consortium could share their results with each other (thus saving NSLVE the work of having to produce a multi-institutional report, and in theory getting the results more quickly)?
Doug posted on 1/18/2013 5:13 PM
If you're interested in student civic engagement this is an excellent opportunity to access a great new data source, at no cost and with almost no effort. And, your students' data stay secure and confidential.

National Student Clearinghouse Research Center is excited to be working with CIRCLE and NSLVE on this project.

Doug Shapiro
NSC Research Center
Nancy posted on 1/22/2013 12:19 PM
Let me introduce myself -- Nancy Thomas, CIRCLE at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University. I direct the college student voting study.

Just a few tips:
-Check to see what information you provide to the National Student Clearinghouse.
-Recruit institutions that you view as peers. The more institutions that sign up and the more data institutions provide, the more informative and relevant your report.
-Authorization forms are due by March 15.
-If you want to take a look at specific courses, programs, or activities that identify civic learning as an outcome, let us know because we're currently designing special studies.

Feel free to email me with questions or to set up a time to talk. Thanks, everyone. Nancy Thomas
Paul posted on 2/25/2013 9:07 AM
At Middlesex Community College (CT), our interest is straightforward: part of our mission, as well as one of our core educational competencies, focuses on developing the civic engagement and civic mindfulness of our students. It is our hope that the NSLVE project will provide at least one important proxy for student civic engagement by establishing clear measures of the level of our students’ participation in the electoral process. NSLVE will also help us to set benchmarks for measuring annual improvement in the fulfillment of our civic mission.