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College Experience Doesn't Translate Into Civic Leadership

If college grads won't shape the political landscape of our country, who will? A new study shows that going to college has zero positive impact on being actively engaged in the political process beyond voting.

The findings are part of the Enlightened Citizenship: How Civic Knowledge Trumps a College Degree in Promoting Active Civic Engagemen, the fifth annual National Civic Literacy Report by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization. This year's report focuses on how well America's colleges and universities are preparing graduates for lives of informed and responsible civic duty and answers the question: Is college capable of producing informed and engaged citizens?

The survey found college does not make a person more likely to:

  • Give money to a political campaign
  • Try to influence how others vote
  • Attend a political meeting or rally
  • Work on a political campaign
  • Contact a public official
  • Sign a political petition
  • Submit a letter to the editor

So what does encourage active political engagement? Frequently reading about history and current events and then discussing those topics with family and friends is the leading contributor to greater civic knowledge, according to ISI research. This had more impact on a person being active in key electoral activities than getting a bachelor's degree.

Other positive factors that significantly influence active civic engagement: a K-12 teacher, college teacher, higher income, greater age, frequently attending religious services, and frequently watching television news. Among the negative influences on being politically active: frequently playing video games.

The report is based on a survey of 2,500 adults nationwide last year.

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