NSLVE Frequently Asked Questions

About NSLVE

  • 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.

    Read About IDHE

  • 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.

  • 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.

Participating in NSLVE

  • Currently, around 1,200 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.

  • We provide data for 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018, 2020, and (soon) 2022 and future federal elections. At this time, we are not covering elections off-year or special elections.

  • No. We rely on philanthropy to provide this service.

  • No. You do not complete a survey, nor do your students.

  • No. You already do that when you submit data to the National Student Clearinghouse.

What Happens to the 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.

  • No. We do comparisons for research purposes and publish aggregate numbers, but we do not publish individual campus data or reports.

  • No. We do not organize, endorse, or support any competition or comparison challenges.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • Campuses must re-authorize participation to receive data for the 2022 election. Check here to see if your campus is authorized. For more on the new authorization forms, see this FAQ.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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. View this sample report.

  • Campuses use their reports to gauge student interest and engagement in democracy, to identify and close equity gaps in student voter participation, in classes as a teaching tool, in campus-wide discussions about engagement in democracy (using our discussion guide and planning tool), for evaluation and accreditation processes, as outreach materials for student admissions processes, as a required data point in the application to the Carnegie Foundation for Engaged Campus status, and to catalyze involvement by faculty members across disciplines, moving beyond the typical fields such as political science. Faculty use NSLVE data in mathematics classes on quantitative analysis or in communications studies to develop public relations materials. NSLVE data is also used on some campuses to increase school spirit – not just for voter challenges but through “NSLVE Day,” when students gather to open their reports and celebrate their successes.

Finding Your Campus Report

  • The report is sent to three people on your campus: the president or chancellor, the office or director of institutional research or assessment, and an additional individual identified by the institution. Try contacting the president’s or institutional researcher’s office to obtain a copy of your report.

  • 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 NSLVE Campus Report Data

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.

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.