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More Political Awareness and Activism on College Campuses Than in Last 50 Years


February 11, 2016
by Susan Dutca-Lovell
A new study reports that 2015/2016 college freshman embody an all-time high predisposition for civil engagement in the study's 50-year history. According to Mikhail Zinshteyn, political and social crime-fighting students hope to be the new brigade of community leaders and activists this year.

A new study reports that 2015/2016 college freshman embody an all-time high predisposition for civil engagement in the study's 50-year history. According to Mikhail Zinshteyn, political and social crime-fighting students hope to be the new brigade of community leaders and activists this year.

According to the Higher Education Research Institute, who surveyed 114,189 first-year students attending college full-time, 8.5% of students - regardless of race - said there was a "very good chance" that they would engage in student protests in 2015. HERI reports that this is the highest level recorded since its inception in 1967. Black students represented the largest increase in expected student activism with a 16% change from the previous year, where 10.5% of students expected to participate in campus-related demonstrations. Latino students represent a 3.2% increase from 2014 to 2015, where one in every ten Latino student (10.2%) reported a "very good chance" in student activism. 7.1% of white students - compared to the 4.6% in 2014 - also planned to be more involved in social-based demonstrations.

According to the study, every race has seen some level of increased desire to participate in student protests, demonstrations, and rallies. To what might we attribute this trend? Kevin Eagan, director of CIRP claims, "Student activism seems to be experiencing a revival, and last fall's incoming freshman class appears more likely than any before it to take advantage of opportunities to participate in this part of the political process...we observed substantial gains in students' interest in political and community engagement across nearly every item on the survey related to these issues." Another part of the survey records that 59.8% of incoming freshman were likely to vote in a "local, state, or federal election at any point during their college career," which is a 50.3% increase from 2014. According to Eagan, this could very well mean a strong interest and dedication to the community and political realm where college students' roles will "play a critical role in upcoming elections." Zinshteyn also notes the "political leanings" of these students as liberal or far-left, the highest percentage since 1973. Regardless of political affiliation, Zinshteyn notes the "emboldened political attitudes of these 18 and 19-year-olds mirror a rise in volunteerism and commitment to others...offering evidence disputing the view of younger Americans as narcissistic or incurious about the world."

Though the study focused on 2015, this group of individuals have the next four years to push forward their agendas and make an impact in the upcoming presidential election. This means a more politically-aware and knowledgeable body of students are scoping out their best candidate for social change.

Credit is attributed to Mikhail Zinshteyn, who is a contributing writer for The Atlantic and program manager at the Education Writers Association. He has also reported for The American Independent, where he covered state education policy, elections, and economics. Additionally, he manages the Education Writers Association's National Awards for Education Reporting.

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Zcasavant  on  2/16/2016 10:29:20 PM commented:

This is pretty cool, and evident of the social turbulence ahead. I am glad youth- ALL RACES- are becoming involved. This is great.

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