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St. Petersburg College and HCC are hosting events to engage student voters

red arrow sign that says vote.
Daylina Miller
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WUSF Public Media
St. Petersburg College has seen a sharp rise in student engagement, according to an updated Tufts University study released Wednesday.

The events are designed to encourage more students to vote in the Nov. 8 election.

With the November election quickly approaching, some professors at local state colleges are figuring out ways to increase voter engagement among their student populations.

Leading up to Nov. 8, both St. Petersburg College and Hillsborough Community College are hosting a slew of events with a goal of getting more students registered to vote and knowledgeable on issues that will be on their ballots.

Eric Fiske, a professor of political science at Hillsborough Community College, says there are many reasons why younger people and college students aren’t as involved in the political process as older generations — including busy schedules, to feeling like their vote doesn't matter, to worrying about if can even legally vote.

"HCC Dale Mabry has a very high Hispanic population. We're a Hispanic-serving institution,” Fiske said. “And so I do know that one of the common questions that I get from students is sort of like, ‘who's allowed to register to vote? Am I allowed to register to vote? Definitely immigration status matter? Like who can do what?’ "

The number of registered voters among college students nationally has been on the rise. According to a Tufts University study, college student engagement rose from 52% in the 2016 election, to 66% in the 2020 election.

But Fiske says mid-term elections can be a larger challenge.

“Midterm elections are always lower turnout for just across the board,” Fiske said. “So we're kind of fighting an uphill battle there.”

To combat this, Fiske is helping host a variety of events on their various campuses.

A sign with a donut on it that is encouraging students to attend a voting event
Tara Newsom
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Events will include talks with local supervisor of elections officials and the League of Women Voters.

During the week of National Voter Registration Day – Tues., Sept. 20 – events will include talks with local supervisor of elections officials and the League of Women Voters, and a Civics Concert series showing the connection between music and politics.

“Music is what got me into politics,” Fiske said. “And so we have a local artist from St. Pete coming to the Ybor Performing Arts Center, and he's a rapper. A lot of his music sort of infuses issues of social justice and American politics and contemporary issues.”

Tara Newsom, a professor and director of the Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement for St. Petersburg College, is helping lead the efforts at the state college across the bay.

“We have been watching the power of the student voter over the last two elections,” Newsom said. “What we've really learned is if more students actually register and get out the vote, they can make a huge impact on the outcome of elections.”

St. Petersburg College has seen a sharp rise in student engagement, according to an updated Tufts University study released Wednesday.

Statistics showing a rise in student voter engagement at St. Pete College from 2014 to 2020
Tufts University
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Hispanic students at St. Petersburg College saw the biggest rise in voting, going from 25% in 2014 to 59% in 2020.

According to the study, the registration rate of students went 77.1% in 2014, to 84.2% in 2020. The number of students registered who actually voted rose from 42.5% to 77.7% in that same timespan.

Hispanic students at St. Petersburg College saw the biggest rise in voting, going from 25% in 2014 to 59% in 2020.

“What Hillsborough Community College, and what St. Petersburg College is doing, is making a difference,” Newsom said. “And most importantly, our students hear that their voices are welcome to the democratic process.”

Newsom said there will be more tabling events on campus, where volunteers will use a QR code to send students directly to the state’s registration website.

“Even if we help one student find their way to the polling place, we've done a good job,” she said.

The voter registration deadline for this November's election is Oct. 11.

As a host and reporter for WUSF, my goal is to unearth and highlight issues that wouldn’t be covered otherwise. If I truly connect with my audience as I relay to them the day’s most important stories and make them think about an issue past the point that I’ve said it in a newscast, that’s a success in my eyes.