Letter to the Editor: COVID-19’s impact on the 2020 Census count of University students

While many of the consequences of COVID-19 have been highly publicized and much discussed, one in particular has flown under the radar: the decision’s impact on the 2020 Census count of University students.

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Letter to the Editor

With any major decision comes a litany of intended and unintended consequences, and last spring’s decision to close the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities’ campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic was no different. While many of those consequences have been highly publicized and much discussed, one in particular has flown under the radar: the decision’s impact on the 2020 Census count of University students. 

Under normal circumstances, students would have received their 2020 Census in March and completed it based on the address where they were living on April 1. With the closure of campus in mid-March however, many students vacated their housing and either returned to their hometowns or moved elsewhere. 

In response to the closure of university campuses nationwide, the U.S. Census Bureau issued clarifying guidance that University students should complete their Census based on the address where they would have resided on April 1, had it not been for campus closures. Nevertheless, many students were either incorrectly counted at their new place of residence or were not counted at all, having missed receiving official correspondence from the Census Bureau before they moved. 

With less than a month until the Census’ self-response deadline on September 30, COVID-19 and the closure of campus’ impact on the Census count for the university and its surrounding neighborhoods is coming into focus. According to the Census Bureau’s most recently published response rate data, the Census tracts containing the Twin Cities campus and immediately surrounding neighborhoods are all underperforming their 2010 Census response rates, some by more than 20%. 

So, why does any of this matter? A Census miscount has severe implications that will be experienced across both the University and its surrounding communities for the next decade, if not longer. Broadly speaking, the Census shapes political representation, helps determine funding for government programs, impacts the flow of local businesses and commerce, and informs the planning and delivery of services to local communities. But more specific to University students, Census data shapes funding for: federal Pell grants; student wellness programs; mental health services; campus safety; adult education grants; agriculture, science, and engineering education; and much more. An undercount in the 2020 Census will result in a misallocation of these inputs, with the university and its surrounding neighborhoods not receiving the support that helps our community to thrive.  

If you have not yet completed your 2020 Census or think you may have been counted at an incorrect address, please fill-out the Census either online at my2020census.gov or over the phone at (844) 330-2020 before the self-response deadline on September 30. 

This letter to the editor has been lightly edited for style and clarity.

This letter was submitted by Ryan Redmer, a second-year Master’s of Public Policy student at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.