Maryann H. Kwakwa
Intercultural Center (ICC) 674A
37th and O Streets, N.W., Washington D.C. 20057
Race and Ethnic Politics
When you hear the term “not college-educated,” whom do you think of? What traits do you attribute to the people in this category? What assumptions do you make about their behavior? I contend that political scientists have wrongly assumed that a certain subset of the population belongs in the former category. Whether implicit or explicit, the extant literature tends to conceptualize college-educated individuals as those who have graduated with a college degree. I argue that this is an assumption that undervalues the political significance of undergraduate college experiences. Thus, in my dissertation I ask: what is the effect of undergraduate college experiences on civic engagement?
Through data analysis, classroom observations, and interviews, I show that the civic engagement of those with some college experience is systematically higher than those who never went to college. In addition, I assess the extent to which abstract thinking and social networks impact the civic engagement of those in the “some college category” and (enrolled) undergraduates at four college institutions. My empirical results support the contention that exposure to a post-secondary educational environment increases the likelihood of engaging in civic behaviors like joining a protest, signing a petition, donating money to a cause, and voting. However, they also reveal that socioeconomic mitigating factors undermine the positive effect of the college environment in various ways. I conclude that conceptualizing education as the “highest degree obtained” is not an adequate measure of an individual’s educational experience and the impact that it can have over time. By shifting our focus from degree receipt to educational experience, we can capture the impact that a college environment has on civic engagement with greater precision.
Keywords: Civic engagement, higher education, measurement error, college experience.