Dear Nancy: I heard that you changed who at an institution will receive NSLVE reports and that IR directors are now one of three report recipients. Can you tell me about the history of NSLVE, which institutions participate, and how we should use the report?
Sure! I would be glad to fill you in. The National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) was launched in 2013 and is both a free service to U.S. colleges and universities nationally and a significant research initiative of Tufts University’s Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE). About six months after each federal election, IDHE sends 1,050 participating institutions tailored, confidential reports containing their students’ aggregate voter registration and voting rates. This year, IDHE has updated its dissemination policies to include IR directors as one of three people at each institution who will receive their report.
About IDHE and NSLVE
IDHE is a non-partisan, applied research center at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life. We study higher education’s role in democracy as well as student political learning, discourse and speech, higher education as a catalyst for political equity, and student participation, including activism, organizing, and voting. NSLVE, our largest initiative, is a tool for educators who want to learn more about their students’ levels of civic engagement. NSLVE is not a survey, rather, we combine student enrollment records and publicly available voting records to create the database, which now consists of around 10 million de-identified student records for the 2012, 2014, 2016, and (soon) 2018 federal elections. We use the database to calculate student voting rates broken down by age, class level, part-time and full-time status, gender, race and ethnicity (if available), and field of study.
Behind the scenes
Campuses don’t send us enrollment records, rather, we work with the National Student Clearinghouse, which already has semester-by-semester enrollment records for nearly all accredited, degree-granting colleges and universities in the U.S. Voting records are a different matter. Whether you vote and where is a matter of public record, but how you vote is not. Election administration happens at the state and in some cases local level, so collecting a complete set for the U.S. is no easy task. We use a company that collects the voting records from each state. With written permission from each campus, the Clearinghouse works with our collection company to match the two sets of records. Then, the Clearinghouse de-identifies the records and sends us the files for analysis.
Student privacy is completely protected. We get a randomly assigned number for each student. We receive age on the date of the election, not birth dates, and we receive zip codes, not full addresses. For personally identifiable information, if a student is in a category with fewer than ten people, then we do not receive that information. We hired a former U.S. Department of Education FERPA lawyer to help us design the process. I am also a former university attorney, and a student privacy junkie. Our website contains an FAQ on FERPA and this process.
Receiving/using the report
- First, make sure that communications from us do not get caught up in spam folders. We send mass emails, including the reports, and some institution systems filter those. We’ll give you advance notice when a report is on its way.
- Second, check the report numbers. We work with what institutions give the Clearinghouse, but if things look amiss, let us know.
- Third, share the report across campus: provosts, chief student affairs officers, diversity officers, civic engagement offices or centers, and faculty across various disciplines can also benefit from these reports.
- Finally, please let us know if you leave your institution so we can update our contact information.
Among the 1000+ participating institutions, we have proportional representation across institutional types – public four-year institutions, research universities, liberal arts colleges, and minority serving institutions - in all 50 states. See the list on our website. We encourage institutions to sign up – it’s easy – the form and directions are on our website and IR directors are permitted signatories for this form.
A final word
We’ll be hosting webinars for IR directors, so watch for these announcements! Feel free to email us with questions or to set up a time to talk. We look forward to working with IR offices all across the country.
Portals for exploring voting data:
National report comparing 2012 and 2016 rates