As we know, the nature and extent of civic engagement among U.S. adolescents and young adults is important both for the functioning of democracies and for the growth and maturation it encourages in young adults. However, young adults are less likely than those in earlier generations to exhibit many important characteristics of citizenship, raising the question of whether these differences represent a decline or simply a delay in traditional adult patterns of civic engagement.
Research shows that one factor in this trend might be the different institutional opportunities for civic engagement among college and non-college youth during the young-adult years. The research surveyed various settings where young adults spend time—schools and colleges, community organizations, faith-based institutions, community organizing and activism projects, and military and other voluntary service programs—examining the opportunities for civic engagement that each affords. As the transition to adulthood has lengthened, say the authors, colleges have become perhaps the central institution for civic incorporation of younger generations. But no comparable institution exists for young adults who do not attend college.
How might we as Civic Engagement practitioners and civic leaders address this phenomenon? How might we insure that those that don’t attend college also have the opportunity to participate in civic society, thus gaining the opportunity to garner the knowledge and skills now only available to a select few?