Stockton Faculty Research: Civics Lessons in College Could Increase Political Participation
For Immediate Release
Galloway, N.J. - Education about civics in colleges and universities could reverse declining levels of public knowledge about government and increase political participation, according to research published today by the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.
The report, “Midwife to Democracy: Civic Learning in Higher Education,” was written by Jennifer Forestal, assistant professor of Political Science at Stockton. Increasing civic engagement is part of the mission of the Hughes Center, which sponsored the research.
Democracy flourishes when citizens are informed and actively participate in civic life, the report says, but evidence suggests that Americans lack knowledge about the U.S. political system and are tuning out. Forestal cites Annenberg research showing only 38 percent of U.S. adults could name all three branches of government. According to 2015 research sponsored by the Hughes Center, more than half of New Jersey adults could not name a single U.S. Supreme Court justice, and only 29 percent could identify freedom of speech as one of the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.
This lack of knowledge is reflected in a lack of civic activity, the report says. In 2007, the United States ranked 139th in voter participation out of 172 world democracies.
Focusing on civic education in colleges, the report points to six building blocks to creating a more informed and active public:
- Instruction in basic facts about government and politics;
- Skills in applying those facts, such as discussing real-world issues and events;
- Cultivation of democratic values, including respect for freedom, a sense of justice and ethics;
- Practice in democratic situations, such as mock elections, model United Nations programs and mock trials;
- Connections between students and their communities, including service learning and volunteerism;
- Support for civic education from higher education institutions.
Many colleges and universities include one or two of those elements of civic education in their programs, but the curriculum is too varied and uneven to produce consistent results.
Forestal’s report recommends broadly integrating civic education in college curriculum so that it is intertwined with multiple areas of study, using several strategies.
Another proposal is to provide a separate certificate program, a minor, or a college major on civics that is open to all students but is not required. Also, colleges could require all students to take a one-semester civics course in order to graduate.
About the Hughes Center
The William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy (www.stockton.edu/hughescenter) at Stockton University serves as a catalyst for research, analysis and innovative policy solutions on the economic, social and cultural issues facing New Jersey, and promotes the civic life of New Jersey through engagement, education and research. The center is named for William J. Hughes, whose distinguished career includes service in the U.S. House of Representatives, Ambassador to Panama and as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Stockton. The Hughes Center can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/StocktonHughesCenter and can be followed on Twitter @hughescenter