Talking 'bout my generation: student politics, institutional development, and the purposes of higher education in American life
Yesnowitz, Joshua Corie
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The effort to balance coexisting (and often conflicting) institutional objectives is a recurring theme throughout the history of American higher education. Colleges and universities are spaces that provide academic (and co-curricular) experiences that can activate a political consciousness, but are also places that are vulnerable to outside influences (indicative of the broader political climate) which may compel the prescription of institutional goals that undermine or shift attention away from these nonmaterial aims. This project examines the functions of the university in American life and considers how institutional development impacts the political socialization of the student body. Previous scholarship on student politics has often focused on campus conditions during a specific time and location and therefore is not equipped to address how macro-level structural changes in the higher education system, the study of which would necessitate a longer temporal scope, may influence engagement. A longitudinal periodization analysis is employed to detect longer-term trends and discern critical junctures that can help explain variation in political involvement among college students of different historical time and to uncover the causal mechanisms that facilitate (or impede) political development on campus. By encountering distinct cultural expectations of higher education, we can assess how social values conveyed in particular missions may stimulate or inhibit student political engagement. The contemporary era is dominated by institutional functions and educational aims that have historically not been directed at political socialization and is populated by students who do not meet the "preconditions of recruitment" as expressed in earlier periods. The significance of formative experiences has been well documented; the lessons that are learned (or unlearned) during emerging adulthood will subsequently inform political behavior. This investigation of the relationship between student politics, national development, and the purposes of higher education in American life demonstrates that the institutional medium through which we socialize does a great deal to shape how we socialize.