September 18, 2002


Grant to Help Increase Civic Participation Among Oklahoma College Students

To many older Americans, today’s students seem self-centered, cynical, apathetic and detached from the many civic and political activities taking place in our nation. In fact, recent research indicates that civic participation by young adults has declined by almost 50 percent since the early 1970s. On the other hand, they are also more involved in public and community service than previous generations.

In an effort to increase the civic involvement of students on Oklahoma’s college campuses, the Oklahoma Campus Compact, with the support of a recent $100,000 grant funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and awarded by National Campus Compact, is participating in a two-year student civic campaign, “Students Rebuilding the Democracy.”

Under the official name of “VOICE” (Vocal Oklahomans in Civic Engagement), the Oklahoma campaign’s goal is to get 24,000 students talking about civic engagement and actively involved in it within the next two years.

“It is Campus Compact’s belief that great change is born out of discussion,” said Jennifer Geren, assistant director of Oklahoma Campus Compact. “We want to first listen to what college students have to say and, secondly, get them involved. While volunteerism is fantastic, it’s our hope that students will begin to see the importance of making change through politics and service combined.”

Approximately two-dozen states have Campus Compact offices, and Oklahoma Campus Compact was one of seven Compacts or Compact collaborations that received the student civic engagement grant. It is up to each state to determine how to use the grant, but the state offices are also required to help student leaders facilitate dialogues on their respective campuses.

There are 32 participating Oklahoma higher education institutions in the Oklahoma Campus Compact, and each institution has appointed a student representative to serve on a leadership group, known as the Collegiate VOICE Committee. The committee, along with a smaller student leadership team chosen from within the group, will be responsible for organizing the student dialogues on each of the campuses.

“Student dialogues will begin in November and will center on the social and public issues that students are passionate about and their motivation for getting involved in public service. When the dialogues are complete, each institution will report back to us on what was discussed and accomplished during the dialogues,” Geren said. “We’ll then, in turn, report those results to the national office.”

Following the fall dialogues, the campaign will continue with regional dialogues in February, where students will gather at one college or university in each region of the state. In addition, Oklahoma Campus Compact will help campus student organizations organize civic activities during National Student Civic Engagement Week Feb. 17-21.

The year’s activities will conclude in April when Campus Contact hosts a statewide dialogue using OneNet, the state’s official telecommunications and information network for education and government. OneNet, a division of the State Regents, provides students from each of the 32 participating institutions an easy and affordable way of communicating with one another without the costly expense of travel.

Another component of the grant is the use of technology. Not only will Oklahoma Campus Compact utilize OneNet for videoconferencing, but officials will also create a Web site where students can post their thoughts and ideas following the dialogues. The Web site will also host chat rooms, whereby students can discuss specific topics. In addition, organizers have partnered with the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA) to produce television programs aimed at fostering civic participation among Oklahoma’s college students.

The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education have been very supportive of Oklahoma Campus Compact. Besides providing the organization with office space at their headquarters in Oklahoma City and access to OneNet, they have also implemented several initiatives during the past several years that build on the spirit of service learning. One such initiative, known as Smart Start for Brain Gain 2010, is a program that provides educational awards to students who serve as mentors or tutors for a specified number of hours in a calendar year.

Another State Regents’ initiative was the establishment of the Chancellor’s Scholars scholarship program that recognizes a select number of high school seniors for their outstanding academic and leadership achievements and, more importantly, their commitment to community service.

“It’s very exciting to see students taking such an active interest in democracy and in helping their fellow man,” Chancellor Hans Brisch said. “They are tomorrow’s leaders, and we must do all that we can to encourage their civic participation in society. Community service is an important mission of higher education, but just as important is getting our students involved in public life and in issues that will affect their future, as well as the future of our communities, state and nation.”

Oklahoma’s public and independent college and university presidents formed the Oklahoma Campus Compact in 2000 to strengthen student involvement in community service and service- learning programs on college and university campuses. Through the Oklahoma Campus Compact, whose office is housed at the State Regents’ headquarters in Oklahoman City, member campuses are linked together as a coalition, actively supporting presidents, faculty, staff and students to reach into the community to build partnerships and improve the social and economic well-being of American communities.

“Having its citizens actively involved in the democratic process, whether running for public office or simply voting in an election, is what separates our nation from many others around the world,” State Regents Chairman Carl Renfro said. “We couldn’t be more thrilled to see that activities are taking place in our state to increase civic participation among college students. Rest assured, we will continue to provide assistance to Oklahoma Campus Compact for this endeavor, as well as others planned in the near future.”