Skip to content. Skip to more web exclusives. Skip to most popular. Skip to footer.


Student Activism Higher than Ever


By Kristen Hardy '17

Published Feb 18, 2016 8:00 AM

UCLA’s annual freshman survey finds the percentage of incoming students likely to participate in protests at an all-time high.


Photo by HelixGames/iStock.

Over the past year, colleges and universities across the U.S. experienced an increase in student activism, as students protested rising college costs and hostile racial climates on campus. Now, findings from UCLA’s annual CIRP Freshman Survey suggest that participation in demonstrations may intensify in the months ahead.

The survey of 141,189 full-time, first-year students from around the U.S. found that interest in political and civic engagement has reached the highest levels since the study began 50 years ago. Nearly 1 in 10 incoming first-year students expects to participate in student protests while in college.

The survey, part of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, is administered nationally by the Higher Education Research Institute at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

The 8.5 percent of students who said they have a “very good chance” of participating in student protests while in college represents the highest mark in the survey’s history and is an increase of 2.9 percentage points over the 2014 survey. Black students were the most likely to expect to protest, with 16 percent reporting that they had a very good chance of demonstrating for a cause while in college — 5.5 percentage points higher than in 2014.

The rising interest in activism coincides with some recent successful protests by college students. For example, last November, after months of protesting a perceived lack of responsiveness by university administrators to racial bias and discrimination, University of Missouri students forced the resignation of the system’s president.

“Student activism seems to be experiencing a revival,” says Kevin Eagan, director of CIRP. “We observed substantial gains in students’ interest in political and community engagement across nearly every item on the survey related to these issues.”

This story is based on an article in the UCLA Newsroom. To view the original full-length article with other findings from the survey, visit