Higher Education and the Census

April 26, 2019

In just over a year, on April 1, 2020, the next United States Census will take place, but 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 Constitution. The Constitution requires that the census includes all people residing in the United States, regardless of citizenship status. However, not everyone does get counted, and the stakes are high.

More than 600 billion federal dollars are distributed to state and local governments each year on the basis of the census. In 2016, Iowa received over 8 billion dollars through federal programs guided by census data. 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 leading to historically undercounted communities. This includes experiencing homelessness, Native American communities, and immigrant communities. In fact, simply being a renter is the number one predictor of going uncounted in the census (look up historically undercounted communities from across the country on this map).

Why campuses should care

Colleges and universities have many incentives to alleviate student confusion and fears to help students get counted in the right way. While many 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 doesn’t apply only to citizens. It applies to all people living in the United States on the official date.

In addition to a responsibility to help achieve a correct count of students colleges and universities can view the Census as both a learning opportunity and a tool for living out the civic mission. The Census is a critical tool for our democracy and it’s important students understand it and their role.

What campuses can do

Interested in learning more?

Visit our Census 2020 Resource Page. Attend the Census 2020 Planning Institute for Colleges & Universities August 14-15, 2019 at Metropolitan State University in Minnesota.