Phi Beta Cons

College Degrees and Active Civic Engagement

“How will reading The Federalist Papers help me get a job?”

That question floats through the minds of many students when they are assigned something that they think is inapplicable to their daily lives. One of the consequences of the credentialization of higher education is the decreasing civic knowledge and historical perspectives of college students — I’ve unfortunately met some who think Mao Tse-Tung is a 7’6” center for the Houston Rockets.

Consequently, on the heels of Academically Adrift, there is now empirical evidence to support this troublesome phenomenon. 

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute just released Enlightened Citizenship: How Civic Knowledge Trumps a College Degree in Promoting Active Civic Engagement, which shows that college has zero positive influence in encouraging graduates to become politically engaged — although many universities promote that in mission statements.

The main findings from the report include:

  • College fails to promote high levels of civic knowledge, with holding a bachelor’s degree exerting zero influence on graduates’ “active” civic engagement.

  • Gaining greater civic knowledge trumps college as the leading factor in encouraging active civic engagement (i.e. more than simply voting).

  • Civic self-education and frequent religious attendance increase active citizenship while video-game playing detracts from it.

The full findings of the report are available at You may want to bring a stress ball with you.


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