The census aims to count everybody, and that means college students, too.
But where are they counted?
This story is part of our three-day package covering the 2020 census. If you missed a day and want to catch up, or want to see what we have coming for day three, visit our landing page here.
College students, such as SUNY Cortland students, are counted not where they come from but where they physically attend school as of April 1, said John Saurez, coordinator of the Institute for Civic Engagement’s Office of Service-Learning at SUNY Cortland.
In other words, right here in Cortland.
But finding those students, explaining this to them and getting them to fill out the census — those are the challenges, Suarez said.
“The Census Bureau is interested in where the student spends the bulk of the year and especially where the student is on April 1,” Suarez said.
For instance, a SUNY Cortland student from Rochester who was living in Cortland on April 1 would be counted in Cortland, he said. At the same time, the student’s family in Rochester would not count the student as living there.
This is something that the U.S. Census Bureau cross-checks, Suarez said.
SUNY Cortland has people on the inside — student volunteers working in conjunction with the census — such as Sabrina Morici, an intern in Mayor Brian Tobin’s office — who are working to ensure students fill out their census forms.
Students are also volunteering through New York Public Interest Research Group, said SUNY Cortland NYPIRG Project Coordinator Ethan Gormley.
NYPIRG is also working to sign up students as paid enumerators — or official census counters.
“This is great for students,” Gormley said. “It can work around their schedules. This is a student’s dream.”
There’s also money that goes into counting traditionally undercounted populations, Suarez said.
For Cortland County, that’s $78,500, which will be used to get the word out — such as for advertising and for renting out spaces for information sessions.
College students likely don’t know about the census, Suarez said, because they were children when the last one came around.
“They don’t know what the heck it is,” he said.
But the aim of the outreach effort is to make sure that they do, said Gormley, and most importantly, that they fill out their census forms.
“Everyone in the census needs to get counted,” Gormley said.
But students may be confused about where they should be counted, he said. “Students do need to report here, and their parents will not report them.”
Off-campus students in particular may be confused about how to report themselves.
“They don’t consider themselves here all the time, and they don’t consider themselves home,” he said. “They find themselves in this weird limbo.”
Off-campus students can also be harder to track down. But Gormley and his volunteers are trying to get the word to as many of them as they can by targeting areas of campus that off-campus students are likely to frequent. Instead of the dining hall, they are focusing on the student life center and the library, where they will set up tables of volunteers to talk to students.
In the meantime, Gormley has been making census presentations in classrooms — all day, every day.
“The college student body is always a challenge to count,” said Lisa Moore, an assistant regional census manager for the U.S. Census Bureau.
Census employees will continue to work with SUNY Cortland officials on counting students, she said.
Suarez said on-campus students will be counted by paper forms that will be distributed at special events in residence halls; students who miss the events will be contacted individually.
Off-campus students will be contacted by census enumerators just like anyone else, he said, but SUNY Cortland will continue outreach efforts to make sure they know about the census.