Understanding the Challenges
Taking an asset approach to voter engagement is essential for community college efforts. Understanding the challenges is one step but converting them to opportunities must be the next step for effective and impactful engagement.
Top Six Challenges to Community College Student Voting:
- More time in the local community than on the college campus
- How to ensure non-partisan efforts? (Budgets are dependant on it)
- What about those on a community college campus who cannot vote?
- Combating historical and institutional marginalization of students and students of color
- No time to vote- in class or at work
- Process is mystifying- educational opportunity to bring clarity to voting and make it local.
The following are reflections from engaged community college professionals on the unique challenges to community college voter engagement:
“At least two-thirds of our students work at least part-time & many have family responsibilities. As this is not a residential learning environment, it is difficult to get attendance at events outside of regular school hours. This dynamic, in fact, caused us to shelve ideas for debate watching parties as the debates all started at 8pm, a time when few students are willing to come back to campus.”
Dr. David Price, Santa Fe College, FL
“I believe the biggest challenge is student apathy and misunderstanding. This year through the feedback survey process I learned that students do not see the connection between the common good, the needs of the community, and our political leadership. In part, this is fueled by a disassociation that has grown stronger as politics in Washington grow more polarizing – with campaigns built on negative ads and fake news.”
-Dr. Diane McMahon, Allegany College of Maryland, MD
“Our campus has a large number of international students and students that aren’t citizens. We did not want to exclude them from any events. It was a challenge to come up with meaningful experiences for them as well.”
-Tara Karaim, Johnson County Community College, KS
“Another challenge is the mission of the community college. Because they are not research institutions, community colleges have more responsibility to the market and satisfying regional workforce demands when compared to four-year institutions. In some states, funding is even linked to programs that prepare students for careers in the local workforce. This can place a strain on institutional priorities, and civic engagement and education, although considered very important, is not always linked to market-oriented efforts.”
-Dr. Joseph Scanlon, Monroe Community College, NY
Explore the Opportunities
In taking into account the unique challenges with an asset lens requires action toward converting challenges into opportunities for maximum impact.
Top Six Opportunities in Community College Electoral Engagement:
- More opportunity for local engagement- family, neighbors
- More opportunity for local candidate visits and engagement
- More opportunity for year-round engagement and not every four years- voting habit and culture on campus- constant reminders of its importance and relevance to its direct impact.
- Engaging those who can’t vote using inclusive practices and opportunities extending and advancing democracy.
- Opportunity do stop-in announcements- events, registration, inspiration
The following are reflections from engaged community college professionals on the unique opportunities of community college voter engagement:
“Community colleges tend to serve populations counted as the most underprivileged and under-represented in American politics today. As such, we have amazing potential to reduce the disparities in political voice and participation. We reach young adults during their formative years and have a unique opportunity to provide interventions that would set otherwise apolitical students on a life trajectory toward being engaged in their political system. I cannot think of another institution with this kind of potential to strengthen democracy!”
-Dr. Lisa Lawrason, Delta College, MI
“The 2008 election saw record-breaking turnout for young people in a presidential election, but subsequent elections saw a decline in those numbers. How can we sustain youth political participation from election to election? Getting individuals to the polls, especially youth, is a sign that democratic government works. Voting can also have the goal of social change. After voting, the individual might feel more connected to the political system. This feeling can lead to more involvement, such as contacting officials, participating in rallies, or running for local office. We see all of these goals as interrelated and necessary for a comprehensive program on voting and political participation towards a thriving democracy. Because of KCC’s student body composition (63% non-white and many of them receiving state and federal financial aid), this is a segment of the population that we seek to empower and engage in the political process so that it can be more reflective of their needs and challenges.”
-Helen-Margaret Nasser, CUNY Kingsborough Community College, NY
“We are the community. We are Democracy’s colleges. The diversity of our campuses and the new Americans in our midst make us the best place to learn and practice democracy.”
-David Mcmahon, Kirkwood Community College, IA
“Community colleges have the greatest opportunity to address the ‘civic opportunity gap’ by working to get all students interested in political engagement. This can happen by creating opportunities to recognize their passions, as well as providing ways for them to make connections in curricular and co-curricular settings with these passions. Once students make the connection between the personal and the political, they will realize the importance of electoral engagement. And, with time, they will use the opportunity to “get involved” as a way to bring about change through activism and advocacy.”
-Dr. Patty Robinson, College of the Canyons, CA