Connecting Classrooms and Communities

American youth are much maligned for their apparent lack of engagement with political life. Some of this criticism is true. The voter turnout rate for 18-29 year olds in the 2012 election was more than 20 points lower than the rate for individuals over 30. This gap grows in midterm elections, approaching nearly 30 points. While voter turnout among all age groups in Minnesota is higher than the national average (often among the highest in the nation), the youth gap persists.

Despite a relative aversion to voting, youth are often engaged in other ways. CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, studies youth engagement and political participation. Their neat infographic highlights the many other ways young Americans involve themselves in political and civic life.

CIRCLE clusters-infographic-web for MCTC intro

Still, participation in elections is a critical method of engagement in American society. A persistent gap between youth and older citizens suggests a troubling imbalance in political power. Way back in February, we committed to working with local colleges to address this imbalance and improve student civic engagement.

This election cycle, we’re partnering with Minneapolis Community & Technical College to engage students in discussions and projects around the 2014 Secretary of State election in Minnesota. Students will study the Office of the Secretary of State closely and hear presentations from the current Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie, and a national expert at the Bipartisan Policy Center, John Fortier. In October, students will host an on-campus forum evaluating candidate positions. Students will also be designing and implementing projects to increase electoral engagement among members of their communities.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities points out that student success depends on more than in-classroom learning. Participation in cocurricular activities that cultivate student leadership potential and civic awareness is positively associated with professional success and sustained community involvement. This partnership embraces that research to strengthen the bridge between the community and the classroom.