Journalism Classes Appear to Increase Civic Engagement

(Photo: Pexels, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pexels, Creative Commons)

A new study suggests that students who enroll in a journalism class may be more likely to vote.

Published by two University of Kansas professors, the study, “Civic implications of secondary school journalism: Associations with voting propensity and community volunteering,” found that students who participate in journalism classes in high school were more likely to choose to vote throughout their lives.  In addition, students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were more likely to do so than their peers who did not take the courses.

“Journalism might be more empowering for students from a low socioeconomic standing,” co-author Peter Bobkowski said. “Finding out in journalism that they have a voice may have more of an effect on those students than our more affluent students who may be used to being heard.”

The study took a look at survey data that followed 10th grade students three times in their lives in an effort to determine how many voted and were active in civics in a volunteer capacity.

Data was taken from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002.  Conducted by the Department of Education, the survey included a random sample of 15,360 students in 750 public and private schools.  Students were again observed when they were in 12th grade, again in 2006, and one more time in 2012-13, when the majority of participants were 26.  Also included in the study was an analysis of high school transcripts for the students in order to show how many students were enrolled in journalism classes, as well as how many they took and the level of social studies courses they took.

While less than 12% of participants took a journalism class, with 8.5% earning one credit or less, participation in these classes was shown to result in an increased voting rate by 9%.  Students who participated in debate were found to have an 8% increase, while earning more than three units in social studies or participating in for-credit community service was not found to have a direct correlation to voting.

At the same time, journalism class participation was not found to effect the likelihood that a student would choose to volunteer for community organizations.  Instead, earning credits in debate resulted in a 19% increase in volunteering rates, while participation in student government was associated with a 36% increase.  Higher credit in social studies was found to have an 11% decrease in volunteering rates.

While it is not made clear through the data why voting rates were higher and volunteering rates unaffected among journalism students, the authors suggest that it is because voting does not require as much of a commitment and is an easy way to express oneself in civics.  Meanwhile, volunteering requires a lengthier commitment.

Peter Bobkowski, assistant professor of journalism and co-author of the study, said that while civic studies did previously exist concerning youth engagement and scholarly activities, they typically put extracurricular activities and subject areas including debate, student government, school clubs and journalism, were all placed together.

“I wanted to know if there was a unique relationship between journalism and civic engagement and if there was a way to determine that,” Bobkowski said.