Cover Photo Image

Students are counted where they reside on April 1, 2020 AND spend most of their time, which means that the majority of students will be counted in their college community. Therefore, the 2020 Census presents an important opportunity to foster campus-community partnerships to ensure complete counts through education and engagement with some of the hardest-to-count populations in our states, including in rural communities, communities of color, non-English speaking populations and off-campus, first generation students, students experiencing homelessness, adult, renter and highly mobile students. Colleges and universities have a special responsibility to the communities in which we are situated to ensure a complete count in the 2020 Census because it will directly impact political representation for the next decade and impact funding and other decisions guided by census data.

Students from diverse socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds and first-generation students have the greatest potential to be most impacted by Census undercounts. Engaging with these groups, our campuses can emphasize how they can be leaders by educating their families and other members of hard-to-count populations, and helping them to complete the 2020 Census. In addition, rural-serving institutions can play an important role in the communities that face particular challenges as the Census transitions to an online survey. Rural communities that are already struggling economically can ill-afford to lose funding because they are undercounted.

Read our primer about the 2020 Census for students, by students here.

In Brief: Why Census 2020 Matters
  • The Census is not just an exercise in bean counting. The framers of the Constitution intended for it to be an important form of political empowerment of the people over government. Mandated under Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, the Census provides data necessary to appoint representatives among the states for the House of Representatives and to redistrict legislative districts.
  • In addition to determining representation, an accurate Census helps every community get a fair allocation of resources. Census data are used to help determine how $675 billion is distributed from the federal government to state and local governments, including funding for programs like Head Start, Medicare, SNAP and Pell grants. A December 2018 report by the George Washington University Institute of Public Policy estimated that census numbers guide $880 billion a year in federal funding distributed for schools, roads and other public services in local communities.
  • One Census Bureau tract highlights 50 different ways census data are used including: the distribution of over $675 billion annually in federal funds and even more in state funds; assessing the potential for the spread of communicable diseases; making business decisions and understanding consumer needs; rural area development; planning for faith-based organizations; planning new schools; attracting new businesses to state and local areas; planning for hospitals and other health services; and designing public safety strategies. Demographic data from the Census are used by businesses to determine, for example, where to build new supermarkets, and by emergency responders to locate injured people after natural disasters.
  • Survey research data and response rates have shown that those who know more about how census data are used and about the process are more likely to participate. In the 2010 census, for example, Pew Research Center found that age and education were the biggest predictors of participation. Survey respondents with lower levels of education and income were also less likely to say they would participate. To counteract these previous trends, the Census Bureau is emphasizing local organizing and educating the public on how census data are used.

Be Counted

About the 2020 Census Process

The 2020 Census will be a monumental undertaking and faces a number of challenges because of politics, budget restrictions, employing new technology (2020 is the first time the Census Bureau will be urging most households to submit their census responses online), and because social media amplifies the spread of misinformation and disinformation.

  • Most households can start participating around mid-March 2020, when letters with instructions are scheduled to be sent to 95 percent of homes around the country.
  • The 2020 count will be the first one to allow all U.S. households to respond online. Paper forms will still be available, and people can call 1-800 numbers to give responses over the phone. The online survey option is expected to help improve the return rate, but the digitization of the census process creates new online security concerns and worries about the possible underrepresentation of rural communities and minority groups who do not have easy access to the internet and/or technology.
  • The Census Bureau includes every person living in the U.S. — regardless of citizenship or immigration status.
  • College students will be counted in the communities where they go to school and live the majority of the year. Most college students should be counted at their college address, either on campus or off campus. They should be counted at their parents’ home only if they live and sleep there most of the year.
  • Students living in residence halls are part of “group quarters.” 
    • Campuses have a point of contact who will assist with developing a list of addresses and expected population count as of April 1, 2020. The college point of contact will also help schedule an enumeration with Census Bureau staff of those living in campus residences, including dorms and other residences owned by the college or university during Spring field operations.
  • In June 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that the controversial question asking Americans whether they're citizens won't go on the 2020 census form — for now.
  • Respondents can skip questions, submit an incomplete census form, and still be included in the head count.
  • Under current federal law, the Census Bureau cannot share census responses identifying individuals with the public or other federal agencies, including immigration authorities and other law enforcement, until 72 years after the information is collected. The Census Bureau, however, can release anonymized census information about specific demographic groups at a level as detailed as a neighborhood.
  • The Census Bureau is expected to announce the new population counts by December 31, 2020. That's the bureau's deadline for sending to the President numbers for the reapportionment of congressional seats, which goes into effect beginning with the 2022 elections.
Engage Students
  • Students must learn why the census is so important and how the process works.
  • Engage students and let them lead! It gives them a chance to practice civic skills and they know the best ways to communicate with peers.
  • Develop educational exercises and resources for use in classes. Create a module with resources on Collab, Canvas, etc. that can be accessed by all faculty and students.
  • Encourage students to start their own Complete Count Committee on campus.
  • Because of high levels of distrust in government institutions, we must prepare students as liaisons to their own hard-to-count communities.
  • The 2020 Census is also an employment opportunity for students.
  • Develop campus systems and awareness-raising for these groups.
Campus Administration Ideas
  • Include a reminder and link to complete the census online in your campus registration system in Spring 2020 when students will be registering for Fall 2020 courses or completing Spring 2020 graduation check-in.
  • Send a university-wide educational email early in Spring 2020 semester and again on Census Day.
  • Join a state-wide campus competition for completion percentage.
  • Sponsor residence hall completion competitions.
  • Place full-page and online ads in student papers.
  • Sponsor a campus poster competition.
  • Organize social media campaigns, including chats, Facebook profile frames & social media filters.
  • Sponsor a student video competition.
Off Campus Ideas
  • Interior and Exterior Bus Signs
  • Door Hangers
  • Email/Letter to landlords
  • Complex office posters
  • Coffee sleeve stickers
  • Food delivery inserts
  • Off Campus Living Website
2020 Census Resources

Back to Top