Five Things Students Can Do for the Census

EDITOR’S NOTE: The recommendations in this post are for students in general. Information specific to Georgetown University will be updated as it becomes available. [2/26/20]

August 22, 2019 | Kell Crowley

The U.S. government takes a census — a population count — every 10 years, as mandated by the Constitution. The 2020 census’ goal is to count each person living in the United States “once, only once, and in the right place” starting on April 1. The census is a foundation of our democracy and a way for everyone to be represented in our government. The data is used to distribute federal funds to states, to determine apportionment in the House of Representatives (how many representatives each state gets) and to determine redistricting within states. These uses of census data will guide decision-making and federal funding for the next decade, so getting an accurate count of every single person living in the U.S. on April 1, 2020 is absolutely essential.

With record high distrust in government, the fact that this is the first online census, and likelihood of coordinated disinformation campaigns, the accuracy of the 2020 Census count is in jeopardy. That said, here are five ways anyone on a campus can help make the 2020 Census as accurate as possible:

  1. Reach out to clubs. Share the importance of the census, and ask them to raise awareness through their networks. For example, community service clubs that tutor in immigrant communities can ask their tutors to do a lesson plan about the census, including key information — such as the fact that responses are confidential by law. This means other agencies cannot access the data to identify individuals for deportation. With the current distrust in government, hearing about the census from a trusted community partner can encourage responses. You can point clubs to resources like Census 101 from 
  2. Spread the word about census jobs. The Census Bureau is hiring and recruiting, and having dedicated workers is essential to getting an accurate count! Let gig workers like your Uber/Lyft drivers and your friends taking a gap year know that they can go to to find a variety of temporary jobs around the U.S. Wages are competitive and paid weekly. You must be a U.S. citizen, 18 years or older, and have a valid Social Security number to be eligible. 
  3. Flier and chalk in the lead-up to April 1, 2020. This is a great way to make sure positive census messaging is everywhere! Students regularly flier around campus, but think about heading into the surrounding neighborhoods. This ensures everyone in the greater community understands the importance of responding to the census. To make fliers, you can use resources such as Census Counts for more details about the impact of the census. 
  4. Incorporate the census into your classes. Most schools have civic courses, but even if yours doesn’t, the census can fit into pretty much any class. Use it as the basis for a project in a computer science class, think about messaging in marketing, or write an essay about it in your language class. Every student in every one of your classes should know about the census and why it’s vital to our democracy.
  5. Flag disinformation and misinformation. As we’ve seen in elections, the Internet provides a space that can spread false information spread by both bad and misinformed actors. Correct this information without amplifying it. For more information about flagging posts on social media, check out this resource.

College students and the census: Where do you count?

Talk to your parents about where you count. Make sure they know to fill out their form, and whether or not you should be on it.

College students living away from their parents’ or guardians’ home while at college in the U.S. are counted at the residence where they live and sleep most of the time

    • If you live in student housing, you do not need to respond to the census. A school administrator will respond for anyone in student housing, which includes dormitories, residence halls, apartment-style housing where residents enter into “by the bed” leases, and fraternity/sorority houses recognized by the college or university.
    • If you live in off-campus housing, your household will receive an invitation in the mail to participate in the census. Designate a time for your roommates to sit down together and have one person to fill out the form for everyone in your household.

College students who are U.S. citizens living outside the United States while attending college outside the United States are not counted in the statewide census.

Commuter students (college students living at their parents’ or guardians’ home while attending college) are counted at their parents’ or guardians’ home. Your parent should include you as a resident when they respond to the census.

The 2020 Census data touches everyone living in the United States. Recognizing and sharing these ideas will have a huge effect on your local community. By ensuring that the greatest number of people are represented, a richer dataset will be collected and the information will have a larger impact in the years to come.