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College orientations get political

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•During orientations at Loyola University Chicago, 70 new students signed up to be "equipment managers" at polling stations this November. They'll join several hundred upperclassmen being trained to set up and monitor voting machines.

•At Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., incoming students have read up on the "millennial generation" and politics this summer. Orientation included a lively presentation by political scholar Kathleen Hall Jamieson and discussions over dinner at faculty homes.

The class of 2012 is starting college amid major buzz over the influence of the youth vote. A record 6.5 million people under age 30 cast ballots in this year's presidential primaries and caucuses. It is the first time their vote has risen in three consecutive election cycles since the voting age shifted to 18 in 1971, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

Yet many of today's college students are either tuned out or are hungering for more channels for political engagement. In a report last year based on focus groups at 12 campuses, students "by and large were saying they didn't get enough opportunities to connect politics to their classes … and to talk about current issues," says CIRCLE director Peter Levine.

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