College of the Redwoods


Cal Poly Humboldt

College Matters | Higher education encourages election participation

This article was originally posted in the College Matters column of the Times-Standard.

Thursday, May 30, 2024 - 12:30pm

The collaboration between College of the Redwoods and Cal Poly Humboldt has been nothing short of groundbreaking and, in my opinion, immensely advantageous for students and our community. One of the greatest pleasures in this collaboration is my wonderful relationship with Cal Poly Humboldt President Tom Jackson, which has led to our co-hosting the Talk Humboldt podcast. Through this platform, we have had the opportunity to engage with many community members and gain a deeper understanding of local issues.

On our most recent episode, we had the privilege of interviewing representatives from the League of Women Voters (LWV). The conversation underscored the crucial non-partisan role the LWV plays in promoting participation in democracy. If you have not listened to the interview, I encourage you to find it on KHSU. I came away from it with a renewed appreciation of the LWV organization — especially in these polarizing political times.

As we look ahead at the upcoming election, the conversation becomes even more relevant. On Nov. 5, 2024, our country will hold its 60th presidential election, with Joe Biden and Donald Trump as the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees.

While the election for the next president gets most of the headlines, the November election is not just about the presidency. Californians will also have the opportunity to vote for numerous state and local representatives, as well as ballot measures that will have profound effects on our families, communities, and educational institutions at every level.

When I think about the upcoming academic year, my thoughts turn to the importance of collaborating with CR’s Student Trustee, student government leadership, faculty, and staff to educate and motivate our students to vote by focusing on the importance of voter registration and turnout.

Here are some alarming statistics that may not be widely known:

• In the 2016 election, only 48% of college students voted, significantly lower than the national average of 61% for all Americans (Democracy Counts 2017).

• In the 2014 midterm election, only 13% of college students ages 18-24 voted (Institute for Democracy & Higher Education, 2017b).

• While voting rates increased in the 2018 midterm election to 40%, this rate was still 10% lower than the average for all Americans.

However, in 2020 there were some positive reversals of this trend:

• College students turned out to vote in record numbers during the 2020 presidential election, according to an Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE).

• 66% of college students voted in the 2020 presidential election according to a report from the IDHE at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life.

• College students also registered to vote in higher numbers, increasing from 69% in 2016 to 80% in 2020.

These statistics make it clear that we need to continue to encourage our students to be active participants in our democracy. We must do all we can to ensure that students not only register to vote but also develop their critical thinking skills in order to understand the issues on which they are voting rather than relying on what they “learn” on social media and elsewhere.

A clear affirmation of higher education’s civic purpose is reflected in a report by President Truman’s Commission on Higher Education (1947), which identified higher education as democracy’s “necessity.” The report states that “the principal goals for higher education… are to bring to all people of the Nation… education for a fuller realization of democracy in every phase of living… and education for the application of creative imagination and trained intelligence to the solution of social problems and to the administration of public affairs.”

Although it was a long time ago, I believe it is just as relevant today, I wholeheartedly agree with President Truman’s thoughts on the importance of higher education. Additionally, I believe that encouraging student voting will close equity gaps in political participation. Community colleges, whose students comprise about one-third of U.S. postsecondary students, are traditionally more diverse than four-year institutions, and have the opportunity to close voting gaps among students and reduce representational and political inequality.

Realizing what is at stake in November, I am proud that College of the Redwoods will join the American Association of Community Colleges, the California Community College Chancellor’s Office, the League of Women Voters, and other local partners to increase voting among community college students and provide unbiased information to the electorate.

Dr. Keith Flamer is the president of the College of the Redwoods.