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New College President Patricia Okker, Ph.D.
New College President Patricia Okker, Ph.D.

From SRQ on 12-11-21:

By Patricia Okker, Ph.D.

Year after year, election cycle after election cycle, our students at New College of Florida garner national accolades for their civic engagement. This fall is no exception, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to share details about their much-deserved recognition.

In November, New College received the “Highest Voter Registration” and “Highest Voter Turnout” awards for 2021, as well as a platinum seal, from the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge. ALL IN recognizes higher education institutions, educators and students who increased voter engagement in the 2020 elections.

“I’m so happy and proud of New College,” says Jada McNeill, assistant director of New College’s Office of Student Activities & Campus Engagement (SA[u]CE), who has been instrumental in increasing voter turnout among students. “I’m grateful that our efforts are being recognized on a national scale.”

So, what is ALL IN, exactly? It is an incredible organization that believes that higher education institutions play a role in graduating students into voters, and in closing electoral participation gaps that persist by race and age. ALL IN aims to create a more inclusive democracy by strengthening college and university efforts to improve civic learning, political engagement and voter participation; as well as ensuring that students are registered to vote and participate in all elections.

Despite the hurdles of the COVID-19 pandemic that led the majority of students to learn virtually in 2020, McNeill and the SA[u]CE team ensured students at New College could effectively cast their ballots. The 2020 presidential election engaged the largest and most diverse group of college students in United States history, and more than 840 institutions (enrolling close to 9 million students) participated in the ALL IN Challenge.

The 2020 election cycle saw unprecedented voter registration and turnout among college students, according to the recent National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement from the Institute for Democracy in Higher Education. The IDHE reported that 66 percent of college students voted in the 2020 election—a 14-point increase from 2016. Data from the IDHE showed that New College’s voting rate increased to 82.1 percent in 2020 from 74.6 percent in 2016.

IDHE’s NSLVE is the nation’s largest study of college and university student voting. Institutions must opt in to the study, and nearly 1,200 campuses of all types (community colleges, research universities, minority-serving and women’s colleges, state universities and private institutions) participate. The 2020 dataset is robust, with 8,880,700 voting-eligible students representing 1,051 colleges and universities.

New College’s rising numbers, as reflected in the report, show our students are extremely actively engaged in the democratic process. And this year is not the first time that ALL In has recognized New College.

In 2018, nearly two-thirds of New College students voted, and the College earned a platinum seal from ALL IN for achieving a student voting rate above 50 percent (as well as three “Best in Class Awards” for the highest voting rate among all participating small, public, four-year institutions).

To continue encouraging high student voter turnout at New College, McNeill and the SA[u]CE office staff created a Voting Information Center, and they launched the NCF VOTE voter engagement initiative last year. But there is much more to follow as we prepare for the midterm elections next year.

Our students are proudly upholding a tradition of civic engagement and activism that has been part of New College since its inception. Students raise awareness for the most pressing issues of the election cycles and encourage their generation—and those that will follow—to get involved in the political process and make lasting change. I continue to be inspired by them.

Patricia Okker, Ph.D. is the president of New College of Florida.