Efforts ramp up to engage students with the census on campus

Students are one of the biggest undercounted populations in the census.

Illustration by Sarah Mai

Illustration by Sarah Mai

Jessica Toledo

With the upcoming census approaching, efforts are ramping up to make sure students are being counted. 

College students are one of the biggest populations in Minnesota unlikely to respond to the census, making them more likely to be missed in the 2020 count. Census employees and University staff are taking extra steps to inform students about what the census is all about. 

Some students tend to not self-respond out of fear and lack of education about the census, said Andrew Virden, census operations and engagement director for the Minnesota State Demographic Center. 

“There’s a misperception or misconception on behalf of people to say, if we put down how many people actually stay here, as opposed to the number there on the lease, maybe our landlord will find out and we’ll get evicted. The answer to that is, you won’t,” he said.

Virden said this issue is common among college students, who are more likely to house more people in one home than allowed on a lease. 

Another reason for lack of participation is that students may think only U.S. citizens are counted. 

Peter Hartono, an international student, said he does not know anything about the census, because he has only been living in the United States for three months. He said he would participate in the census if he knew more about it.

“[B]eing counted in the census is literally for everyone. That counts for non-citizens, … students who are studying in the United States like this is their study abroad, they should be counted here,” Virden said. 

While the census count does not start until April 1, recruiting efforts are already underway.

“[College students] are going to be one of the first populations that we’re going to go ahead and focus on,” Daniel Crawford, a recruiting assistant for the 2020 census, said of the process. “We know that there’s a time crunch with students in [University] housing — that they’re going to be leaving for the summer, many of them will be, so we’re trying to get out there and get the message out.” 

Another challenge people like Crawford are trying to address is informing students what the census even is. 

“I don’t really know much about it, but I know it has to do with counting people in the U.S.,” said. University student Ifrah Noor.

Along with efforts from census workers, University libraries are also working to educate students on census-related matters and pushing for more civic engagement.

Alicia Kubas, University government publications and data librarian, is part of a team trying to help provide students with materials and information regarding the census and how to navigate the process. 

“I think we’re going to have to try to reach students where they are, whether that’s like social media. We’re hoping to have some bookmark that we can put in books that we’re checking out that will have some of the highlights of what to understand about the census,” Kubas said.