About the Project

The American Democracy Project is a multi-campus initiative that seeks to create an intellectual and experiential understanding of civic engagement for undergraduates enrolled at institutions that are members of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. The goal of the project is to produce graduates who understand and are committed to engaging in meaningful actions as citizens in a democracy. The American Democracy Project is co-sponsored by AASCU and the New York Times and includes nearly 200 AASCU institutions.



The American Democracy Project for Civic Engagement is a national initiative that seeks to foster informed civic engagement in the United States. The New York Times will be integrated into the project to build understanding of contemporary events and issues and nurture meaningful civic actions. This project will focus on public colleges and universities that belong to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). These institutions have been called the "American dream" institutions, for many of them educate less affluent students from families who have not had previous members going to college, recent immigrants, and students transferring from community colleges. In addition, AASCU institutions educate more than 50 percent of the new teachers hired in America's public schools each year, so this project will have an impact beyond the students themselves, as graduates from these institutions work with children in America's public schools.


The project grows out of a concern about decreasing rates of participation in the civic life of America in voting, in advocacy, in local grassroots associations, and in other forms of civic engagement that are necessary for the vitality of our democracy.


The goals of the project are:

  • To increase the number of undergraduate students who understand and are committed to engaging in meaningful civic actions by asking participating institutions to review and restructure academic programs and processes, extracurricular programs and activities, and the institutional culture.
  • To focus the attention of policy makers and opinion leaders on the civic value of the college experience.

The projects seeks to:

  • Create a national conversation among many campuses about the theory and practice of civic engagement;
  • Develop institutional commitment by involving senior administrators, faculty, staff, and students; by addressing core institutional mission and purpose; and by focusing on civic engagement as a learning outcome for undergraduates;
  • Initiate new projects, courses and teaching strategies, extracurricular programs, and other programs to increase civic engagement, supported by the national project office;
  • Measure the civic engagement outcomes of undergraduates on participating campuses, and assess the impact of this project in contributing to greater civic engagement outcomes; and,
  • Disseminate the models that result to a wide audience of higher education institutions, individuals, and policy makers.

This project uses the definition of civic engagement proposed by Thomas Ehrlich and his colleagues in Civic Responsibility and Higher Education:

  • "Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes." (Preface, page vi)
  • "A morally and civically responsible individual recognizes himself or herself as a member of a larger social fabric and therefore considers social problems to be at least partly his or her own; such an individual is willing to see the moral and civic dimensions of issues, to make and justify informed moral and civic judgments, and to take action when appropriate." (Introduction, page xxvi).