NSLVE Frequently Asked Questions
What is IDHE?
The Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE) is a non-partisan applied research institute located at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life. IDHE studies higher education’s role in democracy, including issues of student political learning, discourse, equity and inclusion, and participation. NSLVE is a one-of-a-kind, signature initiative of IDHE.
What is NSLVE?
Launched in 2013, the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement, or [en-solve], is a service to colleges and universities interested in learning their students’ aggregate voter registration and turnout rates in national elections since 2012. With around 10 million college student records for federal elections starting in 2012, NSLVE is also a significant database for research.
Generally, how does it work?
NSLVE data are the result of matching student enrollment records with public voting files.
To match the files while protecting student privacy, IDHE formed a partnership with the National Student Clearinghouse (“Clearinghouse”), a nonprofit organization established by the higher education community to provide educational reporting, verification, and research. Nearly all accredited, degree-granting U.S. colleges and universities send enrollment records to the Clearinghouse. To find out if your campus reports enrollment data to the Clearinghouse, check here.
When a campus signs up for NSLVE, it gives written authorization to Clearinghouse to securely match its enrollment records using a matching algorithm engineered by L2 Political, a firm that compiles publicly-available voter registration and turnout records. Public voting records indicate whether a person registered to vote and voted, not how they voted. Once the records have been matched, the Clearinghouse de-identifies the records (meaning all names and information that would enable the identification of individual students is removed) and sends the records to IDHE. IDHE never learns student identities.
IDHE researchers then analyze the data and send a report to each participating campus (for more on reports, see below). We also use the data for research.
How many and what kind of colleges and universities participate in NSLVE?
Currently, around 1,100 institutions participate. These institutions represent all fifty states and all types of institutions (e.g., community colleges, minority serving institutions, state flagships). Click here to see a list of participating colleges and universities.
What elections are covered by NSLVE?
We provide data for 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018 and future federal elections. At this time, we are not covering elections off-year or special elections.
Is there a fee for NSLVE?
No. We rely on philanthropy to provide this service for free.
Is this a survey?
No. You do not complete a survey, nor do your students.
Do we need to compile enrollment lists?
No. You already do that when you submit data to the National Student Clearinghouse.
Does IDHE publish individual campus reports or data?
No. We send the reports to individuals selected by the institutions, and those individuals may publish or share the reports at their discretion. We analyze the data and publish findings through national reports (e.g., Democracy Counts) or scholarly papers, but we never publish data in ways that would disclose an institution’s student voting rate.
Do you use NSLVE data to rank or compare individual colleges publicly?
No. We do comparisons for research purposes and publish aggregate numbers, but we do not publish individual campus data or reports.
Does IDHE partner with or serve as judges for challenges or competitions?
No. We do not organize, endorse, or support any competition or comparison challenges.
Is NSLVE used in any ranking or rating systems?
No, with the exception of the Carnegie Classification for Community Engagement. In that case, campuses are asked about how they assess student civic learning and engagement, and one question concerns voting. Campuses only check that they measure voting (yes/no); they are not asked to disclose a voting rate.
What do we need to do to participate?
We signed up years ago. Are we still in the study?
Who should sign the authorization form?
Forms must be signed by someone with signing authority: typically, the signatory for a campus is a President, Vice President, Dean of the college, Dean of Students, Provost, Registrar or Institutional Research Director, but this is unique to each campus.
Is there a deadline for signing up?
All campuses must be authorized at least one month before we match enrollment and voting records, so we ask that you sign up ASAP.
When can we expect a report?
After a federal election, compiling a complete set of voting records that has been certified by secretaries of state takes several months. The Clearinghouse then matches enrollment and voting records. We analyze the data and send a customized report to participating campuses. This process takes about six to eight months, barring delays with the voting records.
What is in a report?
We provide estimates of the rates at which students on a campus voted and registered, as well as the percentage of your students who registered that actually voted (“yield rate”). We break those numbers down by age, field of study, class level, and, if your institution provides it to the Clearinghouse, race/ethnicity and gender. We also provide some specific voting information, such as voting method, if available.
How can we use the data?
The NSLVE data in your Campus report provides one measure of political engagement on your campus and can support your campus’s civic engagement efforts. You can also use NSLVE data to identify gaps in student engagement and begin working to address them. As a place of study of millions of Americans, higher education institutions have an important role to play in helping forge an active, engaged electorate – one that will shape the next generation of public policy. This report, NSLVE comparison data and practical resources we produce will make it easier for campuses to increase the amount of political learning that happens at their school.
I am a faculty or staff member on a campus. How do I locate our report?
Most campuses have reauthorized, which means that three people will have your reports: the president or chancellor, the director of institutional research or assessment, and one additional individual identified by the institution. You should try to contact these offices directly to inquire about obtaining a copy of your report.
I am not affiliated with a campus. May my organization obtain and/or use NSLVE data?
Sorry, it is our policy that anyone requesting a report needs to be affiliated with the institution. You may directly contact people on campus, listed above, however.
Our campus reports contain a lot of data for you to sift through. We’ve created a special FAQ about NSLVE data and campus reports. In the fall of 2020, we made a substantial improvement to the NSLVE process, which increased the accuracy of our estimates. For more information on this process, see our Fall 2020 Methodology Update FAQ.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) allows colleges and universities to share student lists and certain identifying information, which is often used for research purposes. We worked with several university attorneys to develop a special FAQ on student privacy laws that covers the most frequently asked questions and answers.