Grant to fund focus on closing gaps in college voting rates

Institute for Democracy & Higher Education receives Mellon Foundation grant to expand outreach and improve equity in electoral participation on college campuses
A student in a plaid shirt holds an I Voted sticker after voting
A student proudly displays an "I Voted" sticker after casting a ballot on Election Day 2018. The IDHE's work is focused on increasing student voting rates nationwide (Credit: Anna Miller, Tufts University)
April 30, 2020

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Jen McAndrew

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLEMass. (April 30, 2020)—The Institute for Democracy & Higher Education at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life has been awarded a two-year, $500,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to expand its research capacity and outreach to colleges and universities nationwide, with a focus on closing gaps in student electoral participation.

The Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE) is a nonpartisan applied research center that studies and works to improve college and university student political learning, discourse, equity, and participation in democracy. Its signature initiative, the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, is a one-of-a-kind, robust study of college and university student voting on more than 1,100 campuses in all 50 states. The study merges college enrollment records with public voting records, then calculates voting rates and provides individualized voting reports to participating institutions. Colleges and universities use these reports to benchmark student voter mobilization efforts, to improve civic learning on their campuses, and to identify and address gaps in electoral participation, such as by gender, race or field of study.

The Mellon Foundation’s grant will enable IDHE to expand its work in the 2020 election cycle and beyond and to focus on identifying and disseminating best practices for closing equity gaps on campuses. In so doing, the foundation’s pivotal support will enable higher education to meet a fundamental tenet of its historic mission: to prepare students for democracy and universities with voting data for their own institutions, along with timely analyses, we capture the attention of institutional leaders, faculty, staff, and students and spur and civic leadership.

“By providing colleges action toward meaningful progress on civic and political learning, inclusion and electoral participation, we capture the attention of institutional leaders, faculty, staff, and students and spur action toward meaningful progress on civic and political learning,” said Nancy Thomas, the IDHE’s director. “We are grateful to the Mellon Foundation for this grant, which will help us better understand why equity gaps exist on some campuses and what can be done to close them. As a result, we believe colleges and universities will improve civic and political learning experiences for all students.”

 “At a time of enormous global challenges, it has never been more important to equip young people with the skills and knowledge to be active and engaged citizens,” said Alan Solomont, dean of Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life. “With the Mellon Foundation’s support, we will expand our efforts to reach more students and improve the equity of democratic participation on campuses across the country.”

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About Tufts University

Tufts University, located on campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville and Grafton, Massachusetts, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university's schools is widely encouraged.