On April 1, 2020, the next United States Census will take place, and now is a critical time for colleges and universities to consider their plans for engaging in the count. The census takes place every 10 years and is mandated by the US Constitution. The Constitution requires that the census includes all people residing in the United States, regardless of citizenship status. However, not everyone gets counted, and the stakes are high.
More than 600 billion federal dollars are distributed to state and local governments each year, based on census counts. This includes Pell grant funding, SNAP funding (food stamps program), school lunch programs, job training program funding and more. The count also determines Congressional seats and other election district mapping.
There has long been confusion, distrust, and other issues that have lead to the historical undercount of particular communities. This includes those experiencing homelessness, Native American communities, and immigrant communities.Moreover, simply being a renter is the number one predictor of going uncounted in the census (you can look up historically undercounted communities from across the country on this map).
Colleges and universities have many incentives to alleviate students’ confusion and fears and to help them get counted in the right way. While many students may think they should be counted at their parents’ address, the policy is that people should fill out the census for the address they live in on April 1, 2020. Students may be difficult to reach and unclear on the important of a complete count. Additionally, international students may think they shouldn’t be counted; however, the Census applies to all people living in the United States on the official date, not just those with citizenship status.
In addition to a responsibility to help achieve a correct count of students, colleges and universities can view the Census as a learning opportunity and a tool for living out their civic mission. The Census is a critical tool for our democracy and it is important that students understand it and the roles they can play in ensuring its accuracy.