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NSLVE Frequently Asked Questions

About NSLVE

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?

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.

IDHE purchases access to publicly available voter registration and turnout records compiled by a data services company called Catalist. The Catalist database is widely used for academic research. (NOTE: the publicly available voting records indicate whether a person registered to vote and voted, not who they voted for).  With written permission from individual colleges and universities, the Clearinghouse oversees the process of matching student and voting records. 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 to each participating campus a tailored report that looks like this. (for more on reports, see below). We also use the data for research.

Participating in NSLVE

How many and what kind of colleges and universities participate in NSLVE?

Currently, around 1,150 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 and future 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.

What Happens to the Data

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.

Signing Up 

What do we need to do to participate?

You must opt in. Participation is not automatic, but it is easy. Simply download this authorization form, sign the form, and send a copy to NSLVE@tufts.edu.

We signed up years ago. Are we still in the study?

Campuses must re-authorize participation to receive 2018 – 2023 data. Check here to see if you have reauthorized. See this FAQ on the new authorization forms.

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. 

What to Expect after Signing Up 

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?

You can see a sample report here.  We provide two rates— registration and voting— as well as the percentage of your students who registered that actually voted. 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.

Finding Your Campus Report

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. If you still have trouble finding the report, complete this Campus Report Inquiry Form and we will try to help.

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.  

About Campus Reports

Our campus reports contain a lot of data for you to sift through. We’ve created a special FAQ about the reports.

Student Privacy and FERPA

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.