11/28/2012 01:41 pm ET Updated Jan 28, 2013

The Education Gap In Youth Civic Engagement

By: Robyn Gee

In the 2012 presidential election, young people with college experience were much more likely to vote, than young people without college experience. This continues a long-standing trend in the young voting population, according to CIRCLE’s latest fact sheet.

Approximately 22 million 18-29-year-olds have no college experience, and this group makes up about 45 percent of all people in this age range.

Youth Radio spoke with Abby Kiesa, CIRCLE’s Youth Coordinator and Researcher, about what makes participating in the voting process more accessible to some than others.

Kiesa’s team conducted several focus groups with non-college youth in 2012. Their report is called, "'That's Not Democracy.' How Out-of-School Youth Engage In Civic Life and What Stands In Their Way."  One thing that came up is that “civic engagement” looks different to young people in college versus those out of college. “When people talk about trying to give back, or make a difference or standing up for things you believe in, what does that encompass?” said Kiesa.

For non-college young people in the CIRCLE focus groups, civic actions included serving as a role model for a young person in their neighborhood, making sure their streets were safe or letting a neighbor stay the night. “Their view was that the way that they can make a difference, was to help the people around them,” said Kiesa.

This looks different than civic engagement on a college campus, where there is often an Office of Civic Engagement, or a Center for Social Justice. Kiesa said institutions of higher education have made an investment in engaging the students on their campus. And politicians invest in college campuses too.

“What we found in our mid-October poll was that young people without college experience were less likely to be contacted by a presidential campaign in 2012, than young people with college experience. Twelve percent of young people without college experience had been contacted by a campaign, but 18 percent of young people with college experience had been contacted by a campaign,” said Kiesa.

Another difference between college and non-college youth, was how they viewed the issue of efficacy, or much power they have to change a situation. The researchers found that opportunities to engage in politics and civics are not as available for young people outside of school. Kiesa described a poignant moment at one of their focus groups with non-college youth in Little Rock, AK when one participant said, “None of us are asked to do anything!”

“This cycle of the lack of opportunities can be something someone internalizes, a message that their participation is not welcome or no one wants them to participate,” said Kiesa.

Ultimately, Kiesa and the team at CIRCLE sees the issue of the educational gap urgent in establishing a strong democracy. “When young people are engaged early in life, they’re much more likely to become habitual voters. But when that doesn’t happen, we have these gaps in participation,” she said.  

Originally published on, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.

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