In early October, two opponents for a seat in Virginia's House of Delegates took turns laying out their political stances in front of a small, intimate crowd.

But this wasn't a typical town hall. In this case, they were fielding questions from some 60 stone-faced students gathered in the common room of a dormitory on James Madison University's campus.

Starting in 2018, the university has used these events as a novel way to help fulfill its institutional mission to increase civic engagement among students. And it's one of many schools hoping to capitalize on the nation's heightened interest in politics to get students ready to vote ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

Yet casting a ballot isn't always an easy process for college students. Many students, for instance, mistakenly think they can't vote in the elections local to their campus. And even if they'd rather place their vote in the races at home, they can face restrictive or confusing procedures to mail in their ballots.

Even so, the average student voting rate doubled to 40% in the 2018 midterm elections from 19% of eligible voters in 2014, according to the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE), which tracks students of all ages. Colleges and politicians alike are hoping to build on this momentum to create a culture of voting among students.

The 2014 student voting rates were a "wake-up call" for many schools, driving them to implement campus wide initiatives to boost civic engagement, Thomas said.

But it went beyond voter registration drives, with colleges baking the importance of political action into the curriculum and campus culture.

At James Madison, those efforts were brought together in 2017, when it launched its Center for Civic Engagement. Along with its traveling town halls, the center is behind several initiatives meant to foster political engagement on campus.

Read the full article about what colleges can do to increase student civic engagement by Natalie Schwartz at Education Dive.