The Census, students and COVID-19

Photo: U.S. Census Bureau

The U.S. Census Bureau aims to complete its 2020 Census as scheduled.

The bureau said in a press release this week that it is monitoring the coronavirus and making some changes to how it collects Census data. So far, it is keeping to its schedule to have the Census completed by the end of July, though “that date can and will be adjusted if necessary as the situation evolves in order to achieve a complete and accurate count.”

In the meantime, the bureau is encouraging individuals to respond to the Census questionnaire online, over the phone or by mail. The bureau last week started to send invitations to complete the census. As of March 15, more than 5 million people have responded online to the 2020 Census.

As the number of colleges and universities closing campuses and shifting to online platforms due to the coronavirus increases, the bureau this week shared information on how it counts the bulk of college students and potential changes.

Most college students living on campus are counted through their university as part of the Census’ Group Quarters Operation, the bureau said. However, about 35 percent of colleges previously informed the bureau that they would opt for drop-off/pick-up, which allows students to self-respond using an Individual Census Questionnaire (ICQ). 

“We are contacting those schools to ask whether they would like to change that preference in light of the emerging situation,” the bureau said.

Although the communication focuses on students who live on campus, the bureau said it also wants this information to reach community college students, who typically commute to campus. Some community colleges previously planned to open their computer labs to community members and students who don’t have internet access at home. How those efforts will change is uncertain as many colleges this week are busy transferring their in-class courses to online platforms.

Colleges still can place articles on their websites, listservs or e-newsletters with information about how students can participate in the Census and why it’s important. Among the suggestions from the bureau is to incorporate Census data into curricula, whether focusing on civics or data literacy.

The U.S. Census determines both political representation in Congress and state houses, as well as disbursement of $675 billion in federal funds to state and local governments, which, in turn, affects community colleges.

Related articles: ‘Why the Census matters for community colleges’ and ‘Census data inform community college research

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