Study Claims Colleges Failing to Produce Politically and Civically Engaged Citizens

New study by right leaning Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) shows civic leadership lacking in college grads.

Wilmington, DE – Typical college mission statements normally include aspirations to cultivate informed citizens who are politically active and engaged.  A startling new report on civic literacy statistically proves that these goals are not achieved by U.S. colleges and universities.

Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization, releases its fifth annual National Civic Literacy Report assessing how well America’s colleges and universities are preparing graduates for lives of informed and responsible civic duty.  In this year’s report, Enlightened Citizenship: How Civic Knowledge Trumps a College Degree in Promoting Active Civic Engagement, ISI seeks to answer the “Big Question”—is college capable of producing informed and engaged citizens?

“Our study clearly shows that college has absolutely zero positive influence in encouraging graduates to become actively engaged in more consequential aspects of the political process, like expressing your views to elected officials, donating your time to candidates you believe in, and attending various political events,” states Dr.Richard Brake, co-chair of ISI’s National Civic Literacy Board.  “Instead, becoming educated about American history and the fundamental principles that shape our Republic ensures citizens will do more to influence the electoral process than simply casting a vote.”

The report was based on a comprehensive survey which determined, among other things, whether respondents had engaged in passive (e.g. voting) and/or active (e.g. signing a petition, attending a rally) political and community activities at least once in their lifetime.

Key findings of ISI’s rigorous scientific study include:

• College fails to promote high levels of civic knowledge, with a bachelor’s degree exerting zero influence on a graduates’ “active” civic engagement
• Gaining greater civic knowledge trumps college as the leading factor in encouraging active civic engagement
•  Frequent religious attendance and civic self-education increases active citizenship.

According to Jameson Cunningham of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, the study reveals that “college has zero positive influence in encouraging its grads to become politically engaged—although many universities promote this ability in their mission statements.” He sites Georgetown University as an example of schools seeking to produce graduates who will be “responsible and active participants in civic life.”  Yet Georgetown alumni “are no more likely to attend a rally, write a letter to the editor or volunteer for a candidate than the average citizen.” Whereas, a self educating movement such as “the Tea Party is a prime example where increased civic education leads to increased active civic engagement.”


ISI was founded in 1953, by Frank Chodorov and William F. Buckley, Jr. Over the years, ISI has established itself as a leading conservative educational think tank. IIt claims to be an “educational pillar of the conservative movement and the leading source of information about a free society for the many students and teachers who reject the post-modernist zeitgeist.”[1]

Complete findings in the 2011 Report, available at

[1] Lee Edwards, Educating for Liberty: The First Half-Century of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2003).