NEW Leadership™ Alumnae Survey Key Findings

The Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) created NEW Leadership™ in 1991 to teach college women the value of civic engagement and the importance of having women in positions of political leadership. The NEW Leadership™ National Network includes colleges and universities across the country that have established statewide or regional NEW Leadership™ programs on their campuses.

In order to assess the impact of NEW Leadership™ and evaluate its success in meeting the stated program goals, we conducted a survey of NEW Leadership™ program alumnae. Responses included alumnae from fifteen statewide NEW Leadership™ programs from  2000 – 2015.

Increased Interest in Politics

The survey results confirm that NEW Leadership™ has been successful in inspiring the vast majority of alumnae to participate in politics, educating them about the political process and increasing their overall confidence and leadership skills.

Significant majorities of respondents agreed with the statements, “NEW Leadership™ increased my understanding of politics,” and “NEW Leadership™ increased my desire to participate in politics.”

With increased confidence and information about the political process, many NEW Leadership™ alumnae have followed through on their increased interest in politics.  Six in ten alumnae have engaged in at least one form of political participation besides voting in the past two years, including 41% who have contacted an elected official, 31% who have organized around a political issue in their community, and 29% who have donated to a political campaign.

Leadership and Confidence

Our survey data confirm that one of the program’s most transformative effects on participants is increasing their confidence in themselves and their own leadership abilities. Among the leadership abilities respondents said had  improved most through participation in NEW Leadership™, over half (52%) chose confidence.

The increased confidence reported by alumnae also translates into high levels of political efficacy, with 86 percent of survey respondents agreeing with the statement, “I think that I could do as good a job in public office as most other people.”  Not only do they think that they can do as good a job; a majority of respondents (72%) percent report that they are at least considering running for office.

The Importance of Role Models

Student interaction with and access to political women from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences is a critical component of the NEW Leadership™ success. The women leaders who participate as faculty and speakers at NEW Leadership™ serve as important role models and often become part of political and professional networks that our alumnae develop.

Our survey results demonstrate the lasting impact of these connections. Following their participation in NEW Leadership™, 59 percent of respondents have been in contact with faculty in residence (called “practitioners in residence” in some programs). They have provided career advice, employment opportunities, and letters of recommendation, among other forms of assistance.

Leadership in a Diverse Nation

As the political and economic differences within our country become fodder for headlines and cause for gridlock in our nation’s capital, NEW Leadership™ is developing leaders who recognize the need to compromise and understand that cooperation is part of good governance. During NEW Leadership™, students meet and interact with people they might not otherwise get to know. Nearly half of our respondents (45%) are women of color, and our programs encourage discussions about diversity and leadership that is sensitive to differences.

The importance of this component of NEW Leadership™ is demonstrated by the large majority of respondents who agreed with the statement, “Participating in NEW Leadership™ increased my ability to work with people whose views differ from my own.”

Looking Toward the Future

The results of the 2015 NEW Leadership™ alumnae survey confirm that NEW Leadership™ is an effective program for inspiring and educating college women for political leadership. At NEW Leadership™, college women are encouraged by peers and mentors to become involved in the political process.

Research shows that women often need to be encouraged to run for office, whereas men are more likely to say that the decision to run was entirely their idea. The significant increase in self-confidence and political efficacy reported by NEW Leadership™ alumnae can serve to counter the discouragement women often encounter when striving for leadership positions.

The majority of NEW Leadership™ alumnae are still relatively young (80 percent of the respondents are under the age of 35), so it may be a while before we see the full effect of the program reflected in our elected political leaders. Nevertheless, as NEW Leadership™ alumnae come to understand the important role that politics plays in their lives and in their communities they are less likely to view themselves as outsiders to the political realm.

Methodological note: The survey was conducted online through Qualtrics between November 11, 2015 and February 29, 2016 with 818 NEW Leadership™ alumnae. Respondents had participated in one of 18 NEW Leadership™ programs between 1991 and 2015.