A Report of the National Civic Literacy Board: The Coming Crisis in Citizenship
The Survey

Greater civic learning goes hand-in-hand with more active citizenship. Students who demonstrated greater learning of America’s history and its institutions were more engaged in citizenship activities such as voting, volunteer community service, and political campaigns.

Civic learning and civic involvement go hand-in-hand. Eighty-six percent of the students at the four highest-ranked colleges had exercised their right to vote at least once. At Colorado State, ranked second overall, 90 percent of seniors had voted at least once. And the factor most strongly correlated with students registering to vote and voting is the amount of civic learning that takes place during college. Higher civic learning and greater civic involvement are closely associated.2

Specifically, we found the following:

  • Students who demonstrated greater civic learning also had greater knowledge overall and were more engaged in citizenship activities such as voting, volunteer community service, and political campaigns.
  • At the 11 schools where students took five or more courses from relevant disciplines, students reported significantly higher levels of both registering to vote and actually voting.
  • At the five schools where students reported taking fewer than three courses from civic-oriented disciplines, they also reported significantly lower levels of political participation.

This relationship between increased civic learning and civic involvement holds true in every subsection of this survey. In each of the four areas tested—American history, American government, America and the world, and the market economy—civic engagement increased along with learning. The table below illustrates this with regard to American history:

Passing Grades in American History (C or Better) by Number of Citizenship Activities
Percentage of Passing GradesNumber of Citizenship Activities
Table Six

This table shows that better-informed citizens are also more engaged citizens. This is consistent with our survey’s general finding that taking more courses in these key areas is associated with increased levels of knowledge and understanding of American institutions as well as a higher likelihood that students will register and vote.

2 Our findings confirm the research cited recently by Derek Bok, president of Harvard University: “[T]he dominant feature of nonvoting in America is lack of knowledge about government; not distrust of government, lack of interest in politics, lack of media exposure to politics, or feelings of inefficacy.” Derek Bok, Our Underachieving Colleges (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006), p. 176.

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