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The Madison Center partners with the Center for Assessment and Research Studies to collect information to better understand our campus culture and students and to develop and improve civic engagement programming at JMU. JMU’s civic engagement programming and assessment is described below.

The Madison Center and other units and individuals across campus develop and support programming to help students achieve the learning and developmental outcomes of JMU’s civic engagement initiative, which were created in Spring 2018. Our approach acknowledges the need for a foundational grasp of democratic principles, awareness of pressing public issues, and an understanding of how to engage political decision making across levels of government while also recognizing that meaningful engagement requires critical analytical and communication skills. Given the divisive and abrasive state of our democracy, we also emphasize dispositions such as empathy and open-mindedness and developing confidence in the ability to address public issues. Finally, we embrace the notion that students learn by doing and therefore incorporate civic behaviors into our learning objectives.

The Madison Center annually develop a campus-wide Voter Engagement Action Plan outlining our strategy to prepare students to participate in elections at the local, state and national level. The document includes our voter registration initiatives, opportunities for students to learn about public issues in an academic environment, and plans to facilitate informed participation in elections. Read our 2020 Voter Engagement Plan. The Voter Engagement Action Plan allows JMU to participate in the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge and ensures we retain our Voter Friendly Campus designation. Read our 2018 Voter Friendly Campus Year-End report and our 2020 Voter Friendly Campus Year-End report. The 2020 Voter Engagement Plan and its assessment provides an overview and includes results from the National Study or Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE).

NSLVE provides information on JMU student registration and voting rates after each midterm and general election. Reports from 2012-2020 are provided below.

2020 NSLVE Report

2018 NSLVE Report

2016 NSLVE Report

2014 NSLVE Report

2012 NSLVE Report

JMU is one of three public universities in Virginia with required general education coursework in the American Experience domain. All students are required to complete a 4-credit hour American Experience course (HIST225, POSC225, or JUST225), which provides students with an understanding of the major themes and concepts that structure American life today. Learn more about General Education's American Experience Domain Coursework program and its assessment.

Many other opportunities exist at JMU for civic learning and democratic engagement. Click on each program below to find a description of the program, its specific learning and developmental outcomes, assessment methods and assessment results.

Other opportunities:

In 2018 JMU participated in a multi-institutional study in partnership with AASCU’s American Democracy Project and the Institute of Democracy in Higher Education at Tuft’s University to understand our campus climate for political learning and democratic engagement. The eleven focus groups conducted with students, faculty and administrators provided a better understanding of JMU’s opportunities and challenges. A summary of the results can be found in the JMU campus climate study summary.

Since 2017 we have also administered various assessments (e.g., Political Engagement Project Survey, NSSE-Civic Engagement modules, Civics Quiz, News Quiz) using institution-wide data collection procedures (e.g., Assessment Day, Continuing Student Survey). Assessments were administered to assess civic engagement programs and also to better understand JMU students’ civic knowledge, skills, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. Data have been collected on thousands of students and for some instruments, we’ve measured the same students repeatedly allowing us to explore change over time and across cohorts. Findings have been disseminated through numerous reports, presentations, and publications. Read the highlights of findings from JMU's university-level civic engagement assessments.

As noted in the program-specific summaries, most programs are encouraged by their results. All programs share the same goal, which is to prepare students to be active and responsible participants in a representative democracy dedicated to the common good. We are pleased with the extensive opportunities for political learning and democratic engagement on campus. Participation, however, is uneven across programs. All JMU undergraduates are required to complete the American Experience domain coursework in the general education program. Other programs are only experienced by a subset of students because participation is voluntary or because of the program’s association with a particular academic unit. An ongoing challenge is how to reach more students.

The climate study results and results from large-scale administrations of assessments are both encouraging and concerning. The climate study indicates extensive opportunities exist, but uneven involvement, particularly if participation is not required. The climate study also revealed features of the campus climate and national political climate that are both challenges and opportunities. The large-scale assessment results are encouraging in that they indicate favorable changes over time, particularly for more recent cohorts and those who participated in civic engagement programming. The results, however, also suggest the typical JMU student is not as engaged, interested, or knowledgeable as they could be. Voting rates and voter registration rates are strong, but participation rates for other political activities are low.

Program-level results are used by many individual programs to inform improvements. Collectively, the information we have gathered through program-level and university-level assessments has motivated us. It reveals there is much work to be done and reminds us the work is not easy. Importantly, it reminds us that students can develop their civic competencies and that many are hungry to do so.

In addition to using what we’ve learned to inspire us, we also want our results to inform. It is our hope that by sharing information through internal and external presentations, dialogues, reports and publications, that we can raise awareness, demonstrate our transparency, and serve as a resource both within and outside of JMU for civic engagement learning outcomes, programming, and assessment.

As higher education contemplates its role in strengthening democracy as part of its long-standing public mission, robust institutionalized approaches to curricular and co-curricular programming focused on educating and equipping students with political knowledge, skills, capacity, and agency to address pressing public problems have the potential to benefit students’ civic learning and democratic engagement. Our work shows that campuses can effectively build and implement programs to strengthen political learning and engagement as a means to strengthen our democracy, even as it is being overtly threatened across several critical fronts.

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