Today is National Census Day, but in light of the coronavirus pandemic forcing millions of Americans to stay in their homes, government officials have shifted their approach to get as many people as possible to fill out the census online. This would seem like a simple enough solution if it weren’t for the hundreds of thousands of college students displaced due to the virus who would normally have to go through specific channels tied to their colleges in order to be counted on campus. Now, many are wondering the same thing: how will college students be accounted for in the 2020 Census?
The coronavirus spread began just as the 2020 Census campaign started, and colleges and universities across the country began closing campuses, moved classes online, and encouraging students to return home if possible. Under normal circumstances, college students living in on-campus housing are counted through their university as part of what is known as a Group Quarters Operation.
This census measure applies to all forms of group housing including places like nursing homes, group homes, and prisons. Since the coronavirus rose to the status of a global pandemic, the Census Bureau shifted its focus to encourage colleges and universities to make all census forms and information available to its students online rather than opting for mail-in or on-campus options. This even applies to students who are still in on-campus housing while social distancing.
According to official residence criteria for the 2020 Census, college students should still be counted at their “usual residence” which is where they live and sleep “most of the time.” They should not be included on their parents’ or guardians’ census form, even if they are staying with them while the virus runs its course. But, it is also still the responsibility of the college or university to gather census information for its students to submit to the Census Bureau. While many U.S. residents are being encouraged to fill out the census online or by phone, students are still required to go through their university.
There are a couple of exceptions to this rule, one being for students living off-campus. In this instance, students should coordinate with their housemates and only fill out one questionnaire to represent their household. Students living outside the U.S. on Census day due to study abroad or other programs are not counted in the census; however, international students living and attending college in the U.S. should be counted whether they live in on- or off-campus housing in the same way as U.S. students, according to the Population Reference Bureau.
As stipulated in the U.S. Constitution, the United States has one chance each decade to record data on its population. This data collected on around 330 million people is used not just as a reference for the demographics of our nation but also to determine a process called “apportionment,” which decides the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives. Additionally, census data is used to inform how billions in federal funds will be distributed to local communities.
Currently, data collection for the 2020 Census is scheduled to be completed by July 31, but it is possible that the deadline will be adjusted in order to give people more time to complete questionnaires to achieve a more complete and accurate count.