American Sociological Association

How College Makes Citizens: Higher Education Experiences and Political Engagement

One function of undergraduate education is supporting successful citizenship later in life. Educational achievement is positively, if variably, related to political engagement. However, questions remain about the role of selection into college education as well as the specific college experiences that facilitate postcollege good citizenship. The aim of this study is to test the independent effect of higher education completion on three forms of postgraduation political engagement, using national longitudinal data and controlling for selection into college completion using control-function models. The authors also test the effects of several specific experiences encountered during college—course topic areas and high-impact educational experiences—on these outcomes. College completion has an independent effect (beyond selection) on citizenship behaviors. Social sciences and humanities coursework and two high-impact experiences (being mentored and engaging in a community-based project) were associated with political engagement. Higher education is a training ground for citizenship; particular course and extracurricular experiences help fulfill that mission.

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Andrew J. Perrin and Alanna Gillis



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