A Surprise on Campus

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Written by: Director Robert Groves

With two college-age sons home for the holidays, I’m reminded about younger folks’ views of the world. They’ve especially alerted me to the fact that my understanding of the census is not theirs.

One son was surprised that the Census Bureau would mail a questionnaire to his off-campus housing. He thought that my wife and I would report for him, just as we pay his tuition, remind him to pay his rent, make sure he has enough money for books each term, and fill out insurance forms for medical expenses.

The notion that he and his roommates would have to collaborate to fill out a single 2010 Census form was a shock. They don’t think of themselves as a “household.” There is no one roommate who pays the rent, who gets the mail, who takes on the role of the head of household. The roommates come and go on their own, rarely eating together, mainly gathering together on the weekends to watch TV sports. They leave the small amount of mail they get in their box for several days before gathering it up.

My other son, living in a dormitory, never imagined that he would be asked to report on a census form.

The 2010 Census wants college kids to get counted where they usually live (like everyone), and this means for them to be counted in college dormitories and off-campus housing.

Our partner specialists on staff are attempting to reach out to colleges around the country, but my own sons tell me we have a ways to go to get the message out.

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30 Responses to A Surprise on Campus

  1. My Opinion says:

    Good things census forms come with the postage already on them. Most students do so much electronically that they might not know where to buy a stamp – they certainly wouldn’t wait in line to buy a stamp.
    Maybe the ad for college students can point them to the nearest collection box for their area:
    http://usps.whitepages.com/post_office
    Click on Collection Boxes under the drop down menu under “What are you looking for?”

  2. Joe Lee says:

    UC Berkeley has a Complete Count Committee working hard to raise awareness about the coming census. We have “Group Quarter” representatives for each on-campus housing group: residence halls, family housing, Greek housing, and cooperatives. We also have student government representatives to help educate those that live off-campus.
    Off-campus students (those that live in apartments and privately owned homes) will be receiving questionnaires via mail in March 2010. On-campus students (those that live in the dormitories, Greek housing, etc.) will be receiving Individual Census Reports by their building representative in April 2010.
    This information is very important for the students to know.
    One strategy that the City of Berkeley (CA) has been using is passing out free 2010 Census swag to college students. Free giveaways serve as great motivational tools for students to participate in the coming census.

  3. Just some thoughts says:

    Working on the complete count committee in a college town has been quite an experience. It seems like an almost impossible task to get to all of the students – on campus, off campus, greek, international, non-traditional; the list is never-ending.
    At OSU in Stillwater, we’re focusing on reaching out through campus organizations and media, and we’ve had great support from the administration.
    The two biggest problems with this census are simple: First, that is cannot be done electronically. Second, that is will be mailed during spring break.

  4. college student says:

    Personally I am a little offended by the first post, being a college student myself. It sounded a bit as if you are implying that college students are not capable of filling out their own census forms. Although some students depend on a guardian to pay for their tuition, rent, book, etc., other students are responsible for making ends meet and see themselves as independent. Last time I checked, college students do their own homework, so I do not see why they cannot fill out a quick form for the census. All it takes is for the importance of the census to be spread around campus and each student receive a form. My college is going to have a census filling event and the collge will collect the forms to send them out.
    If over the years, more and more students have gone out to stand in lines to vote in order to have their voice heard, then they can check boxes on a form in order to be counted.

  5. Question says:

    Since the census occurs every 10-years and if a college student only has, say, one year left before graduating and leaving the area, wouldn’t it make more sense for the student to be counted in the area where he/she would be spending the bulk of the 10-year period? Technically, I guess it is logical to use the location where the student lives the majority of the year, but extrapolating that concept to where the student spends or has spent the majority of decade is not a far stretch.

  6. Greg says:

    @Question:
    The census is a snapshot in time. Just as a student about to graduate might move on to a different place, there is a high school student about to move away from home to the same out-of-town college. And there’s someone at that college grad’s future town who will be moving because she got a better job in a different town. People move.
    Statistically it’s not going to make a significant difference, so it’s best to get an accurate snapshot of what the population of the U.S. looks like on April 1, 2010. The data will always be outdated as soon as it is collected, so there might as well be an arbitrary date where we stop and ask “where do you live NOW?”

  7. zak ryerson says:

    And I would say thqat your son who lives off campus might well feel that he should be the only person listed on the form _He_ fills out.
    The question that really matters is, just how far does he _have to go_ to ensure that other people fill ou an individual form.
    All his flatmates: YES, he mqaust attempt to ensure that each person who fits that description fills out a form.
    Anyone who live in that building, Sort of,
    Depending on the number of housing units in the building he does have a responibilty to qattempt to ensure 100% complience.
    The Building next door or across the street, NO! He does not have any greater obligation thqan any othe concerned citizen to ensure complience!

  8. My kid is studying abroad says:

    It is a snapshot, that also means that all those college students studying abroad are not going to be counted, because they are not living in a dorm or an apartment on April 1,2010. However, they can’t be counted at their parents home. We know there are people living or traveling anytime. The bad thing is they will be here in three months or so and maybe next year the amount of students in other countries are going to be different. Who knows!

  9. Olufemi Taiwo says:

    It would seem that, as the original blog post points out, the census process is vulnerable to error in this demographic. The possibility for double counting exists if parents fill out their census form as if the child still lives with them, and the child or a housemate gives information to a census worker on campus. On the other hand, college students often change living addresses year by year or even by semester, something I can attest to as I still receive mail intended for previous tenants more than half a year after they have moved out. Would the bureau know where send the form?
    It would seem that double-counting would be the larger problem, and so college students might be overrepresented. Does this process usually under or over count college students, in census estimations? What is the adjustment process for policy recommendations, if any, in place for counting college students in the absence of statistical sampling?

  10. Lynette says:

    The fact that our college students are counted on their campus and not at their State of residence is ridiculous. They need to be counted in the State where they vote, pay taxes and where their drivers license is issued. This is an attempt to increase the population of college campuses and reduce the number of people residing the suburbs. The census is going to be suspect in this respect.

  11. Nat Treadway says:

    Lynette makes an excellent point. “Where I live” is a state of mind, just like people’s opinion about their Hispanic origin. If a college student files income taxes from the parents’ residence, votes there, has a driver’s license there, etc., then in what sense are they “living” in a college dorm. The Census ought to measure allegiance to a place — Isn’t that why we live? “I pledge allegiance …” and want to be counted in that place. And my children do too.
    Perhaps most irksome is the Census form. We just read it and reread it, and it is contradictory to start by saying “don’t count your kid at college” and then later allow a check off box that says “this person sometimes lives at college.” Ten years to prepare the form and this is the best we can do? This issue has been around since about … 1790.

  12. Cyn says:

    I agree whole-heartedly with you Nat! I did the same thing – quite confusing! Then, I telephoned for help! What a big mistake. I had to listen do a dozen things before I could talk with a representative! He told me he could not tell me how to answer the question (do I count or not count my college student) and told me all he could do was read me a prepared statement! I counted my college student!

  13. Barb says:

    My daughter attends school out of state in PA. She is also a senior which means she will be back in IL from May on. I have a concern that both the money and especially, her representation in the US House of Representatives will be given to PA
    If her representation is through PA, then I should not be paying out-of-state tuition, as the college is getting the dollars for her for 10 years and she will only be there for 5 months. How do I get my out-of-state tuition back?

  14. Barb,
    Your daughter should be counted where she lives most of the year. For college students who do not live in the parental home, they should be counted where their on-campus/off-campus housing is located.

  15. Barb says:

    You still haven’t answered my question. The majority of 2010 she will be living in Illinois but not on April 1. Isn’t this considered Gerrymandering? If she files in PA she is giving PA her representation in the US House of Representatives. If her representation is now in PA then technically she is a member of your state and not IL. Therefore I should not be paying out-of-state tuition. Is there a lawyer out ther to file a class action for all of us in the US who pay out-of-state tuitiion?

  16. Barb says:

    My student will only be in PA for 5 months of the year but will be there on April 1. This is not the majority of the year. Does this mean that she should not fill the form out at college but that we should include her in our home state of IL census?
    If money and representation are following her and she must fill out a census for PA then why do I have to pay out-of-state tuition?

  17. Barb,
    Regardless of where her representation/residency is, she must be counted where she lives most of the time. Which where she goes to school.

  18. Barb,
    For college students who do not live in the parental home, they should be counted where their on-campus/off-campus housing is located.

  19. Bob says:

    Bri@census…,
    You’re doing a great job accurately reflecting the views of the U.S Census! It takes you at least two tries to answer a question, and when you clarify, you change your answer!
    Either the census is a snapshot of where people’s residences ARE on April 1, 2010 OR it’s an average for the year; it can’t be both! But what year? 2010?? Guessing the future is a goofy way to increase the accuracy of the census. So, 2009? Well, why a calendar year? April 2, 2009 to April 1, 2010 is the most recent year.
    Shouldn’t the census define its terms (“year”) if it wants accuracy? But I’m being silly; I don’t think I saw “residence” defined, anywhere, and you’re arguing that two cots, a lock on the door, and a community bathroom are a college student’s residence, when their legal residence for every other purpose (voting/driver’s license/taxes), is probably their (parent’s) home.
    Speaking of taxes, since this is “all” about somebody getting “their” share of federal dollars (oh please, argue that one after watching your own commercials), what sense does it make to interpret residence differently for paying taxes, vs. receiving “gov’t aid”? How about voting in one state, but counting towards another state’s population for determining their electoral votes?
    Now, let’s get real silly. Be consistent. Define your terms. If it really made sense to count my freshman, who lived most of 2009 at home, as off at college now because she will be (hopefully) for most of 2010, then the (probably) graduating seniors will more likely be at (or around) home for most of 2010.
    College students are not snowbirds. It doesn’t make sense to treat them the same. For a snowbird, the “error” in counting them as a full time resident matches whatever “error” is made by just taxing them in one state. Most college students are dependent upon their familes. Their parents home is where family income is taxed, generally, and where they are usually claimed as a dependent and a tax deduction. To treat some cot as their home, unless they think of it that way, and establish residency, is a huge mistake.
    Concerning the idea that it would paint a misleading picture to say that, in general, college students live at home, there IS something to that. However, essentially saying the population of (on-campus) college students lives there 48 months of a 4 year stay is ALSO very misleading (since 30 months would be a better statistical measure of where the students sleep at night), and leads to an inequitable distribution of funding and of population.

  20. Bob,
    We ask everyone to fill out the form according to our guidelines. On the form it states: “Count all people, including babies, who live and sleep here most of the time.” “Do not count anyone living away either at college or in the Armed Forces.” “If someone who has no permanent place to stay is staying here on April 1, 2010, count that person.”
    April 1 is our reference day, but we still ask that you are counted where you live most of the time.

  21. ttasche says:

    Don’t be silly. First, Gerrymandering is a deliberate restructuring of district lines _within_ a state in an effort to create “safe seats” for the ruling party. Having college kids report in the state of their college is neither partisan nor in any way impacting district lines. If anything, it’s only giving a more honest measure of population, but it bears no political implications because, as has already been pointed out, students generally vote in their home states anyway. And to address your legitimate concern that Illinois is losing representation by sending students out of state: take consolation in the fact that the representation lost by your daughter filing out of state is being compensated by one of the many students coming from out of state to study at an Illinois college. The number of students leaving their home states to attend college should be roughly offset by the number of students coming into that state for college. Numbers are the only thing that matters in determining representation, so it’s a wash.

  22. Jennifer says:

    Bob,
    I’m just trying to get additional census forms for my two out-of-state college children – like your son, I thought my children would be counted on my form. But, now, WHERE do they get the forms? When I called, they gave me this website address and nowhere can I find out which “community” centers in my children’s communities will have the forms. This has to be easier – like a census form on-line for downloading at ease??!
    Jennifer

  23. out of state tuition paying dad says:

    I pay out of state tuition, which is actual full cost and is actually beneficial to their budget, for my son in a public college in another state. There is no way that state should get credit for him unless they want to refund me his tuition. He is there for 30 wks/yr. I find this notion of giving that state credit and future federal funding very irritating. (I suspect, some states have more out of state students than others, ie the numbers of out of state tuition students DO NOT cancel each other.) He filled it out, thanks to his instate roomates pointing out the ambiguous instructions and thanks to him forgetting my express instructions, and I turned him in, both got mailed before we conferred again, so he is being counted twice. His particular locality still gets away with discouraging students from registering to vote and so he is registered in his home state. I would think the census should allow you to use where you are registered to vote and where you consider your prinipal residence to be.

  24. Out of State,
    Your son should be counted where he goes to school. We have measures to check if people are counted twice, and in this case he would counted where he goes to school.

  25. out of state tuition paying dad, College students living away from home while attending college are counted where they are living at college.
    College students living at their parental home while attending
    college are counted at their parental home.

  26. Dissatisfied says:

    Counting residents of one state as residents of another just because they attend college there is stupid. They are in essence handing away their representation to a state they will leave shortly. I’m counting my college kids at home.
    Also, the census reasoning above is pretty lame.

  27. Erin Chapman says:

    I think the biggest barrier preventing college age students from participating in the census, is their confusion about what constitutes their home.
    College students often feel stuck somewhere in between – between youth and adulthood, dependence and independence. The way we conceive about “home” is no different.
    When the census packet showed up at my Maryland apartment, my three roommates and I were confused. Were we supposed to fill this out together? Although we had lived together for three months, I never thought of us as a “household.”
    One girl said that we shouldn’t fill it out. After all, we were only living here temporarily – we were college students spending our spring semester interning for the government – and her parents had already included her on their census.
    My other roommate didn’t want to fill it out either. She thought that our university would automatically count us, because we had all lived in dorms the semester before.
    It turns out we were all wrong.
    After looking up the requirements on the Internet, we found out that we were supposed to fill out the form together. We completed it, and mailed it in, but now I can understand why college students have traditionally been undercounted: we have a hard time pinning down where exactly home is.
    Take me for example. I’m registered to vote in Ohio, but I go to school in Indiana nine months out of the year. I spent last summer and will spend this summer abroad, and I haven’t lived with my parents for more than 10 consecutive weeks since I moved out two years ago. Right now I’m living on the east coast, but I’ll be moving out in less than three weeks.
    It seems strange for me to be counted at my current address. Why should I be counted in a place where I don’t even have a library card?
    If the census bureau is going to do a better job of counting those of us stuck in between, they need to reach out to us directly.
    Allowing people to submit forms online would make it easier for college students to participate. An online form could include specific instructions catered to each person’s age group that would address age-specific questions (ie. “What do I do if I live in a nursing home?” for older people, and “Where should my live-in significant other be counted?” for young professionals.).
    Taking advantage of opportunities for online submission would make it easier for young people to get the information that they need to be included in the count.

  28. R. Lanzi says:

    Barb,
    I agree with you, I am on military duty for one year in one state, yet have a home-of-record 500 miles away (Drivers License, Pay state and Municipal Taxes, vote for State & City Officials, ETC…). Filling out the form from my Military address cheats my home state of proper representation & Benefits (inflates) the Representation of the state im in for short peroid of time

  29. Frank Pacitti says:

    I am student housing landlord. I take offense at many of these comments. My rental area would have a population of near zero if students are not counted as living at their dormitories or off-campus residences. Should my area be treated as a “ghost town” for census purposes even though 30,000 people live there 9 months+ per year? That is not an accurate reflection of reality.

  30. Dan B says:

    Only 9 more years until the next census.

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