How Colleges Can Help Turn Out the Student Vote

Kathleen Harring , President, Muhlenberg College

January 27, 2023

The Muhlenberg College campus in Allentown, PA.

Excerpt cross posted from Higher Ed Dive.

Citizens & Scholars is proud to publish a series of diverse perspectives on citizen engagement and democracy from our network of Fellows and partners.

Americans aged 18-29 voted at the second-highest rate in three decades, only slightly lower than the 2018 midterm elections, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.

But here is what’s surprising: Despite their impact on this election, only about 27% of this age group voted.

Colleges are in a uniquely powerful position to increase this number — and there are very few times in our country’s history when it’s been of greater importance. Our institutions are places with a commitment to developing independent and critical thinkers, where different perspectives should be encouraged and examined.

Nonpartisan and student-led efforts to demystify the election process coupled with an institutional commitment to encourage civic engagement can make a real difference in voter registration and turnout.

We’ve seen this work with outstanding results on Muhlenberg College’s campus.

During the 2014 midterms, our student-voter rate was very low — just under 14%. But that figure jumped to 48.5% for the 2018 midterms, according to the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement.

During the hotly contested 2016 presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the national student voting rate for all institutions was 52.9%, with ours at 63.8%.

During the 2020 presidential election, Muhlenberg’s student-voter rate rose even higher — to nearly 83%, making it among the highest in the country.

The college also recently earned a platinum seal from the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge for our 2020 student voter efforts. And the group recognized Muhlenberg as having one of the most engaged campuses for student voting in 2022.


To read more about how Muhlenberg College focused their resources to drive student engagement, read the full article here.

Kathleen Harring is president of Muhlenberg College, in Pennsylvania.

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