The Students Learn Students Vote (SLSV) Coalition is the national hub and largest nonpartisan network in the United States dedicated to increasing college student voter participation.
We convene and connect campuses, nonprofit partners, students, and philanthropic leaders with each other, and with resources and programming towards achieving our vision of ensuring that every student has easy and equal access to participate in every election. We use data, relationships, celebration, and easy-to-follow planning structures, to help campus and local leaders register and turn out more student voters every year.
Our theory of change is rooted in institutionalizing nonpartisan voter engagement within campus cultures and processes. By connecting and supporting local campus leaders with the resources, tools, and knowledge they need to build a diverse coalition, analyze student voting data, strategically plan, and embed voter registration, voter education, and voter mobilization into existing campus processes, we believe voter engagement can become an integral part of the campus culture.
In February 2016, a founding group of non-profit organizations realized that colleges and universities were consistently noncompliant with federal guidance provided in the Higher Education Act around voter registration efforts on campuses. When we delved deeper into the issue we realized that many campuses either didn’t know they were noncompliant or didn’t fully grasp the unique opportunity they had to empower their students to engage in the democratic process.
Since then, the SLSV Coalition has grown to over 400 partners including campuses, nonprofits, community leaders, students, and philanthropic leaders, working with almost 2,000 campuses in all 50 states. We have expanded our mobilizations but maintain a focus on collaborative solution-building guided by local and campus leaders. The SLSV Coalition was incubated by the nonprofit Young Invincibles, continued its work with the National Conference on Citizenship, and is now a project of NEO Philanthropy.
The Students Learn Students Vote (SLSV) Coalition fosters connections and provides year-round support to campus, nonprofit, community, student, and philanthropic leaders working to build a more representative and equitable democracy by increasing college student voter participation and engagement in our democratic processes.
Every college student has easy and equal access to participate in every election, facilitated and encouraged by their institutions of higher education.
Our GUIDING PRINCIPLES
For us, building an equitable democracy begins with supporting campuses equitably. We focus on understanding the specific needs of each campus and provide them with the resources they need to meet their version of success. This approach shows up tangibly in the places we redirect funding to, with community colleges and Minority Serving Institutions always being our top priority. It also shows up in our work to ensure that underrepresented students have the access and power to confidently participate in our democracy.
We believe that in order to realize full student voter participation, campuses must remove physical and psychological barriers that students face in voting and change systems to ensure that all students have equitable access to the democratic process. This shows up in our work supporting campuses in placing and protecting on-campus voting locations, helping lead a nonpartisan digital voter education campaign through National Voter Education Week, creating comprehensive campus voting plans that incorporate strategies for reaching all students, and/or integrating processes to engage students as voters through existing systems that they take part in every day, such as campus orientations, class registrations, etc.
We understand there is no one-size-fits-all approach to registering and turning out students to vote. Local leaders know the distinct challenges and resources of their campus communities best, and can implement solutions most helpful to their specific contexts. Instead of erasing the work and vision of local leaders (which happens far too often), we center local leaders in our work by trusting, supporting, and celebrating their knowledge and enthusiasm to create real change in their communities. To that end, the governing bodies that set our strategic direction, annual goals, and direct our funding priorities, the SLSV Executive Committee and SLSV Advisory Board, are made up of local leaders from across the country.
We know that it’s not enough to simply claim we’re not racist; we must actively be anti-racist. Alongside and contradictory to a representative democracy, white supremacy, anti-blackness, and xenophobia is woven into the very fabric of our nation. Recognizing this, we purposefully incorporate a racial justice lens throughout our work to ensure students of all races and ethnicities are welcomed and actively encouraged to participate in our democracy. From creating content that helps achieve voter parity across racial and ethnic groups to subsidizing efforts that lead to the diversification of leadership across campus and community civic engagement spaces, our work advances anti-racist ideas, actions, policies, and systems.
We believe that democratic engagement – especially when institutionalized and student driven – can positively impact students’ learning and overall college experience. Leading research in the higher ed field shows that there is a direct correlation between student success, retention, and student engagement. Engaged learning practices – across both the curricular and co-curricular settings – deepen students’ connection to campus. That’s why we support faculty efforts to bring student voter engagement into the classroom, administrators’ work to make student voter engagement a pervasive part of campus culture, and students’ ability to facilitate peer-to-peer engagement.
We know there isn’t an “off” year from elections. Collectively, we believe that student voter engagement requires consistency and accountability, every academic year. Utilizing the SLSV Checklist as our model for institutionalization, a sustainable commitment to this work is achieved when campuses: designate a leader; build a diverse, equitable coalition; make data-informed decisions; develop and implement a plan; and continually assess and iterate their work. Impacting change and graduating students into voters won’t happen in just one election cycle; it takes a committed, ongoing effort.
We understand that participating in the democratic process is not political, it’s constitutional. We’re not about partisan politics or turning out potential voters for one party only; we focus our time and energy on supporting all voters, unconditionally. Nonpartisanship allows us to build the strongest relationships possible with community organizations and higher education institutions who are striving to improve voter access and to create opportunities for students to participate in the democratic process. We’re working to achieve full participation because we envision a democracy that is truly of all people, by all people, and for all people.
We believe that participating in our democracy should be celebrated. Voting is an important act involving community, fun, and togetherness. That’s why we support campuses in hosting events that celebrate voting and encourage college students to participate in the democratic process. Whether it’s around major holidays such as National Voter Registration Day, National Voter Education Week, and Vote Early Day, or just randomly throughout the year, we help campuses make voting and democratic engagement fun.
We know that there is power in numbers. As a coalition, we believe in rising together, giving credit where credit is due, and letting the voices, needs, and lived experiences of communities guide our solution building. As such, we make all of our resources available to every partner, value all members’ viewpoints and contributions equitably in our decision making, and provide a national platform to brainstorm, troubleshoot, and share ideas to advance our collective work.
Our theory of change
Students vote at lower rates due to systemic barriers. Being a first-time voter on a college campus brings unique challenges: where do you register to vote, how do you get to your polling place without a car, what if you have classes all day on election day?
Local leaders at the college and university level provide creative and effective answers to all of these questions and many more. That’s why the Students Learn Students Vote (SLSV) Coalition has chosen to invest in local leaders and make sure they’re supported in this work. As a national hub for student voting, we’re providing infrastructure and institutionalization at the campus level to address the most pressing voting issues faced by students.
Our Executive Committee and Advisory Board include representatives from national and local nonprofits, students, faculty and staff from campuses, and election administrators who help set Coalition goals.
We help design and coordinate programs and tools for campuses so they can scale, apply, and implement voter engagement strategies on their campuses.
We host monthly Coalition calls and annual convenings that create community and collaboration across the student voting space.
Every year we raise and distribute funding to Coalition partners and directly to campuses to support their incredible work.
Simply: We bring together campus, nonprofit, community, student, and philanthropic leaders with the goal of increasing student voter participation.