Study Finds Students Aren't Apathetic, Just Unaware

This story was written by Sarah Brubeck, Indiana Daily Student
Today's college students are more interested in politics than other young people, but they don't know how to become involved, according to a study released earlier this month.

The study, "Millennials Talk Politics: A Study of College Student Political Engagement," was conducted by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. The Harwood Group did a similar study in the early '90s, and the idea was to compare results.

"The results were not similar to the '90s," said Abby Kiesa, youth director for CIRCLE. "(Students) were saying they don't like the partisanship of today. They do a lot of hands-on activities, and they don't write off political studies like they did in the '90s. They don't necessarily know how to get involved, but they want to."

The study found that many college students resort to community service because they are informed about politics and care about the issues, but aren't sure how to become involved.

"I think it will make people step back for a minute to ask 'What is our campus doing to facilitate political engagement?' or 'What (are they) not doing?'" Kiesa said. "I also think this notion of college students being apathetic isn't always true. Students want to get involved, but they don't know how."

About 400 students participated in the study at 12 four-year universities. Researchers attempted to use many of the same schools used in the previous study.

"We were really committed to the fact that every college has a different atmosphere," Kiesa said. "We worked with a team of students and faculty at each school who helped us pick students."

Researchers held a total of 47 focus groups within the 12 universities between October 2006 and July 2007. At no point in the proposal were students told they would be discussing politics. The idea was to a find a diversity of students interested in incentives, not students necessarily interested in discussing politics.

"Some things were striking," Kiesa said. "Students talked a lot about bias in the media. It came up in almost every focus group spontaneously. We didn't even ask about it. What we perceived was that students didn't want a Republican versus Democratic debate, but an open discussion."

Researchers held three panel discussions following the release of the report.

"Through the panel discussions, we got different perspectives on (the study)," said Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE. "We got viewpoints of what it means to people from youth and reporters. What the young people want is an opportunity for open discussion. Young people were crying out for opportunities to discuss political issues. They aren't satisfied with how politicians are acting."

CIRCLE published the report on its Web site but also printed thousands of hard copies to pass out to universities.

Karlo Marcelo, a research associate for CIRCLE, said the organization is next looking to go to college campuses and give reports to administrators to help them push for more programs to engage students.

© 2007 Indiana Daily Student via U-WIRE