Engagement in Higher Education

This area’s basic and applied research examines the dynamic processes that impact student development in moral and civic responsibility, leadership, ethics, and faith. Through multi-disciplinary approaches, we seek to understand what motivates community and social action; what sustains civic engagement over time; how community-based learning impacts students’ knowledge, attitudes, behavior, moral commitment, and sense of life purpose. We are committed to collaborative inquiry to improve opportunities for student engagement and development, and collaborate on a number of national studies in an effort to develop best practices in higher education.


Civic and Political Engagement at Notre Dame

Campus Plan and Report: Voter Engagement and Civic Learning — 2020 

This document outlines initiatives and programming at the University of Notre Dame to encourage voter engagement and promote student civic and political learning. The report was shared with the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge and the DemocrACCy initiative of the Atlantic Coast Conference, and will be a tool for Notre Dame faculty, staff, students, and partners to assess and build promising practices. Contact Jay Brandenberger for more information.


A non-partisan student-led initiative supported by the Center, ND Votes provides civic and political learning opportunities each semester, and a thorough voter registration and election guide (Fall 2020) for all fifty states. 


National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement Data

The University of Notre Dame participates in the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE). This study, facilitated through the Institute for Democracy in Higher Education at Tufts University, links data from over 1000 colleges and universities with public voting records. Results (anonymous) provide a picture of voting trends among Notre Dame undergraduate and graduate students. The University's most recent report (comparing voting rates for the 2014 and 2018 mid-term elections) is available below. It augments data collected by the Center for Social Concerns (see Research Report 13). 

NSLVE 2014 and 2018 Campus Voting Report for the University of Notre Dame 

NSLVE 2012 and 2016 Campus Voting Report for the University of Notre Dame

See Notre Dame press release on voting report


Dr. Nancy Thomas Visit Notre Dame — November 5 —7, 2019

Notre Dame was pleased to welcome Dr. Nancy Thomas of Tufts University for a three-day visit to campus. Dr. Thomas is a national expert on the role of higher education in promoting civic and political learning, and the founder of the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement. We hope to build a strategic dialogue on campus with Nancy as participatory partner, considering means to enhance civic learning at Notre Dame.  

Formal Cosponsors of the Thomas Visit

Center for Social Concerns, Office of the Provost, Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy, The Department of Political Science, Constitutional Studies Minor, Notre Dame Learning | Kaneb Center, the Division of Student Affairs, ND Votes, and The Office of Public Affairs. 

About Nancy Thomas

Nancy L. Thomas directs the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE) at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life. IDHE is an applied research center that studies higher education’s role in American democracy and supports college and university student political learning and participation. The Institute's signature initiative, the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) examines student voting rates, patterns, and conditions. Through NSLVE, nearly 1,200 U.S. colleges and universities receive tailored reports containing their students’ aggregate voting rates following each federal election. Her work and scholarship interests include college student civic learning and participation in democracy, campus climates for political engagement, deliberative democracy, political equity and inclusion, and campus free speech and academic freedom. She holds a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a law degree from Case Western Research University’s School of Law. She is also an associate editor of the Journal of Public Deliberation, a senior associate with Everyday Democracy, and a member of the Scholars Strategy Network. Thomas' research focuses on political learning and democratic engagement; equity, diversity, and inclusion; academic freedom and free speech; and legal issues in higher education. 

Sample Publications / Media 

Thomas, N & co-authors (2018). Election Imperatives: Ten Recommendations to Increase College Student Voting and Improve Political Learning and Engagement in Democracy. Link

Thomas, N., & Bower, M. (2017). Politics 365: Fostering Campus Climates for Student Political Learning and Engagement, chapter in edited book: Teaching Civic Across the Disciplines (full book here).

Thomas, N. (2018). Educating for Democracy in Undemocratic Contexts: Avoiding the Zero-Sum Game of Campus Free Speech Versus Inclusion. In: eJournal of Public Affairs. Link.

Thomas, N. (2018).  Students at the Polls. Podcast.

Additional Resources

Bergom, I. (2016). IDHE Report — Campus Stories: What are Higher Education Institutions doing to Increase Political Learning and Engagement? Link

Institute for Democracy and Higher Education. (2018). National Data Reports

Bornstein, D. (2018, July 4). Getting Student Power into the Voting Booth, in the New York Times. Link.

Gismondi, A.  (2017). Political Engagement Begins on Campus. Published by NASPA, Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. Link

US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Forming Consciences for Faith Citizenship. Link.

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Upcoming Events

September 2021

Information Session | ISSLP 2022 (In-Person and Virtual)
Sunday, September 26, 2021 - 7:00pm to 8:00pm

October 2021

Signs of the Times Brown Bag Lunch Series | Refugees
Friday, October 1, 2021 - 12:00pm
Information Session | ISSLP 2022 (In-Person Only)
Monday, October 4, 2021 - 7:00pm to 8:00pm
What to do with my Ph.D.? Community Engagement Career Paths
Tuesday, October 5, 2021 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm
Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor
Tuesday, October 5, 2021 - 7:00pm
The Social
Thursday, October 7, 2021 - 4:30pm to 5:30pm
Information Session | Catholic Social Tradition Minor
Tuesday, October 12, 2021 - 6:30pm
Information Session | ISSLP 2022 (In-Person and Virtual)
Wednesday, October 13, 2021 - 7:00pm to 8:00pm
Application Close | ISSLP 2022
Monday, October 25, 2021 - 12:00am to 11:45pm

November 2021

Labor Café First Friday
Friday, November 5, 2021 - 5:00pm to 6:00pm
Dignity and Justice Workshop
Friday, November 12, 2021 - 10:00am to 1:00pm
Higgins Labor CLASSics | Blue Collar (1978)
Sunday, November 14, 2021 - 3:00pm

December 2021

Signs of the Times Brown Bag Lunch Series | Housing
Friday, December 3, 2021 - 12:00pm
Labor Café First Friday
Friday, December 3, 2021 - 5:00pm to 6:00pm