It’s required by law to participate in the census, but a lot of people don’t. In 2010, 1.5 percent of the Hispanic population was undercounted, along with 2.1 percent of the black population. While there are lots of headlines about the challenges counting immigrants and homeless populations, there is another group the census is focusing on: college students.
Of course, the census count has gotten a lot more complicated because of the coronavirus, especially in places like California where Governor Gavin Newsom issued a statewide shelter-in place order, closing college campuses.
The census still encourages students to take part in the census even if their living situation has changed because of COVID-19.
"College students should still be counted at their "usual residence," which is the place they live on campus, no matter where they have gone during the coronavirus crisis and where they are physically on April 1st," said Joshua Green who is a media specialist for the census.
The college population is one of the hardest communities to count because “they're very mobile people,” said Green. “They tend to have many residences while they're college students; sometimes they might go study abroad. It makes students that are much harder to contact by mail.”
The Census utilizes an interactive map called Response Outreach Area Mapper, ROAM, to help “identify hard-to-survey areas and to provide a socioeconomic and demographic characteristic profile of these areas.” The information is then used to develop a “tailored campaign” that would increase the number of participants. One area where Oakland Census Office Manager Antonio Nuñez has seen a low participation rate is UC Berkeley. There is a task group that’s designated to work directly with Cal’s officials to make sure all of the students are counted this year.
“We're giving [UC Berkeley] the option to simply give us a head count, if having everyone complete a questionnaire is too unwieldy, although it is our goal to have everyone complete the full questionnaire,” said Nuñez.
If you are a college student questioning whether you should participate in the 2020 Census, here are some FAQs.
I’m an out-of-state college student, do I still need to complete the census?
Yes, definitely. You have to complete the census where you live and sleep most of the time. So even if you let's say go to UC Berkeley, [but] you consider yourself a Colorado resident, we still want to count you at Berkeley. We’ll send [a survey] wherever you happen to be on Census Day, April 1st.
I'm not financially responsible for myself, do I still need to complete the census?
Yes, definitely. Counting people actually has nothing to do with being financially responsible or anything having to do with your finances ... We want to get everyone counted because that's going to determine where resources are allocated. That's the most important factor.
I live in the dorms, does that count as my permanent residence?
Yes, the dorms count. We work with campus coordinators and administrators to make sure that places where a lot of people live are counted through the group quarters operation. That just means we'll compile the information on that entire building and then the person who's responsible on the campus side will work with the census employee to make sure all the accurate information is [collected].
I'm pretty sure my parents are counting me in their census form, do I still have to complete the census form?
Well, you know, the first thing we'd say is call your parents and tell them not to do that. And then, yes, we want you to fill out a census where you happen to live. [Even if that temporarily has changed because of coronavirus closures.] Some [students] do live with their parents and go to school, so in that situation, of course, they would get counted by their parents. But otherwise, if their parents live out of state or in a different place, they need to tell their parents not [to count them] because we don't want to count people twice.
How do I get access to the forms to fill them out?
I think for college students, especially, the easiest way is going to be to fill it out online. That's what most college students are used to. And, you know, that's how we're going to invite everyone in the country to respond.
What if I’m a college student who is homeless, can I still participate in the census?
Yes, definitely. Hard-to-count populations are students, but the people experiencing homelessness are also in that category. And so if you're both of those, it’s definitely important.
You don't need an address; you can go online and respond to the census. There's an option on the online form to say you are experiencing homelessness and then you continue with the rest of the form.
What if I live with multiple people, do we all have to complete the census?
It's one response per household. It's not an individual response. So if you're living in a group situation, you have six roommates, you need to talk with your roommates and say, 'Who's going to do this for our house?' We don't want all six people to go online. The form is based on a household, so that takes a little bit of coordinating.