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Open Access Publications from the University of California

STUDENT EXPOSURE TO SOCIAL ISSUES AND CORRELATIONS WITH VOTING: Gauging the Impact on Economically Disadvantaged Students at Major Public American Universities


gher levels of civic and community engagement in higher education are positively associated with students’ academic performance and they also build upon citizenship skills such as informed voting. Yet, while these are worthy and important outcomes of higher education, students from disadvantaged backgrounds can have more difficulty navigating civic engagement.  Focusing on students at thirteen major public universities in the United States, and utilizing survey data generated by the Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) Consortium, this study suggest social perspective-taking has a significant positive effect on all students’ probability of voting and participating in community service. Students who were asked to identify challenge/solutions to social problems and reflect/act on community issues in the classroom were also more likely to participate in community service. Additionally, Hispanic students and students from lower-income households are significantly less likely to vote and perform community service—findings corroborated by previous research. Females are more likely to vote and participate in community service—findings also corroborated by prior research.  Hispanic students and students from low-income backgrounds were more likely to participate in voting and community service if they had increased rates of social perspective-taking. These results suggest that increased opportunities to connect with classmates in the classroom and develop perspective-taking skills (e.g. appreciating the world from someone else's perspective, acknowledging personal differences, interacting with someone with views that are different from your own, and discussing and navigating controversial issues) are potentially quite powerful ways to foster civic engagement among students who traditionally have the lowest civic engagement rates compared to their peers. 

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