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Higher Education’s Role in Promoting Citizenship

October 01, 2012

Students discuss the impact that higher education has on democracy and citizenship.


To explore and understand the relationship among higher education, democracy, and citizenship

Special requirements:

Copies of the quotation and questions below

Time required:

30 minutes to one hour 


Ask students to read Alexander Astin’s (1995) quotation below, then discuss it in large or small groups.

We [higher education] educate a large proportion of the citizens who bother to vote, not to mention most of the politicians, journalists, and news commentators. We also educate all the school administrators and teachers, who in turn educate everyone at the pre-college level. And we do much to shape the pre-college curriculum through what we require of our college applicants. In short, not only have we helped create the problems that plague American democracy, but we are also in a position to begin doing something about them. If higher education doesn’t start giving citizenship and democracy much greater priority, who will?

Sample reflection:

With Astin’s quotation in mind, think about the following questions:

• Do you think that our educational institutions are preparing students for a life of engaged, democratic citizenship?
• How does service learning play a role in giving citizenship and democracy greater priority?
• What specifically can higher education do to give citizenship and democracy greater priority?
• Will involvement in service learning necessarily foster civic responsibility in students?
• How can we create a culture of civic engagement that results in a more humane and just society?
• How can service learning and civic responsibility relate to institutional accreditation criteria?


Assignment adapted from Integrating Civic Responsibility into the Curriculum.