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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Civic Education in Massachusetts

A recent report, noted in an earlier post, tracked the decline of civic education in college. Inside Higher Ed reports:
Massachusetts will soon track civic engagement at its public colleges, addressing increased concern that Americans aren’t equipped to impact their communities or interact meaningfully with government.
While it hasn’t been decided exactly how citizenship learning will be evaluated, the Board of Higher Education’s Tuesday vote mandates that civic engagement be measured along with more traditional standards such as graduation rates.
Higher education leaders, citing low voter turnout and other measures of civic engagement, have long doubted colleges do enough to prepare students to contribute to society. Eight state college systems now require students to receive some form of civic education, and some individual campuses have made citizen preparation a priority, said Carol Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. She believes Massachusetts is the first state system to mandate that civic engagement at its two- and four-year public colleges be measured and compared to other states.
Richard Freeland, the Massachusetts Commissioner of Higher Education, said Tuesday’s unanimous vote came after faculty members at several institutions pushed for a civic engagement component to the state’s Vision Project, which seeks to position the state’s public colleges among the nation’s best. By adding civic engagement to a list of five desired outcomes, including the percentage of high school graduates attending college and the percentage of students earning a degree, he believes colleges will focus more on making better citizens.
Some institutions within the Massachusetts system have already emphasized civic engagement. North Shore Community College has a Public Policy Institute that focuses on civic and community involvement, and Mount Wachusett Community College is planning a similar program. The University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the state’s flagship campus, has a Center for Digital Government. The new policy doesn't ask campuses to create their own research centers, like the Amherst program, but instead to measure the civic engagement of their students.