Colleges & Elections
In the 2012 Presidential election, higher education is a centerpiece of both the Democratic and Republican campaigns. Whether the issue is college cost, student loans, measurement of outcomes, or success and attainment, America’s colleges and universities are the subject of intense discussion and debate as we move toward Election Day – November 6, 2012.
Beyond choosing the President and Vice President this fall, voters also will elect all members of the House of Representatives, a third of the Senate, and many state and local office holders – and will do so against a backdrop of a still-struggling economy, fiscal crises in many states, high levels of student debt, immigration issues, a weak job market, and a polarized electorate.
Voters’ decisions on Election Day will shape the middle years of this decade, and beyond. One of the most pervasive, objective, and effective venues for informing those decisions are America’s colleges and universities. Encouraging, informing, and facilitating widespread participation in the electoral process has long been one of higher education’s most basic responsibilities.
To support and enhance this civic engagement and political participation among college students, the Washington Higher Education Secretariat launched Your Vote, Your Voice in 1996, and has been active in every federal election since then. These efforts gained heightened importance in 1998 when Congress mandated that all colleges and universities make a good-faith effort to distribute voter registration forms to all degree- or certificate-seeking students attending class on campus.
College students are increasingly engaged in the electoral process and in voting. Research by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Education (CIRCLE) found that, since 2000, voter turnout among college-educated youth has increased by 12 percentage points. In the 2008 presidential election, the turnout rate of college-educated 18-to-29 year-olds was 62 percent – 26 percentage points higher than the rate of non-college youth.
Not just students, but every member of the campus community can play a role in voter registration, education, and participation. We suggest that presidents work with their registrar, student affairs office, student leaders, and employee groups in developing creative ways to foster voter education, encourage nonpartisan voter registration, and build a commitment to vote on Election Day. The project can serve as a focal point for common discourse, promote the vital responsibility of citizenship, and enhance the role of the campus as a setting where ideas and issues are openly and vigorously debated.
In this critically important election year, we urge you and your campus to become active participants in the nation’s electoral process.
Co-chairs, WHES Voter Registration Project:
National Association of Independent
Colleges and Universities
Muriel A. Howard
American Association of State
Colleges and Universities
Richard H. Ekman
Council of Independent Colleges