Census wants college students to be counted

Nicole Stempak

Data used for funding, cities fear miscounting

Students who want to stand up and be counted can make it official on the 2010 census. Population data from the census will be used to determine funding for public services including roads, police forces and hospitals.

More than 120 million census forms are arriving in mailboxes across the nation this week. This 10-question form, required by the Constitution, attempts to count everyone living in America.

Census population data helps determine the states’ seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. It also helps allocate more than $400 billion a year in federal aid to states, including how much money is awarded to Kent State, which is then disbursed to students through student aid.

Population affects federal funding for every type of public service from hospitals to senior centers to roads, said Aundrey Somerville, 2010 census partnership specialist for Portage, Summit and Wayne counties.

Somerville said it’s important that everyone be counted, including college students. Students need to fill out the census in order for the city and university to receive the most funding possible.

“That is so the areas where you reside receive the public dollars allocated to that area,” she said.

Somerville said residents and nonresidents will be counted where their household is on April 1 — Census Day.

“Even if you’re not a citizen of the United States, you still stop at a stop sign,” Somerville said of international students. “You still use the roads to roll down the streets on a bike or car.

“You still take advantage of all the services that are affected by population.”

Somerville said college students are classically undercounted, in part because of the transient nature of student population.

College students move more frequently than in-state residents who have mortgage payments, she said. Filling out a census form is a way to leave a legacy at Kent State because the government uses census data to determine how much to award universities.

“Census population data affects how university tuition, grant and loan programs are allocated,” she said. “Freddie Mac, Sallie Mae and Pell Grants are funded by or underwritten by the federal government.”

A profile based on a sample of the 2000 Census found the city of Kent had 4,569 residents from age 15 to 19 years old and 7,351 residents from age 20 to 24 years old. That’s about 43 percent of the entire city’s nearly 28,000 total population.

According to Research, Planning and Institutional Effectiveness, 21,921 undergraduate and graduate students were enrolled at the Kent State main campus fall 2000. Fall 2009 undergraduate and graduate enrollment at the Kent State main campus was 25,127.

Residence Services is working with Census Bureau representatives to make sure the roughly 6,000 on-campus students are counted, said Daniel Shonk, coordinator of assignments and marketing for Residence Services.

Shonk wrote in an e-mail that staff will use building rosters to track who has returned the forms.

Census field workers will not be going door to door in the residence halls to gather information. Shonk said he and the Census Bureau representatives were still deciding the deadline for completing the forms.

The last question on the 2010 census asks if the person sometimes lives or stays somewhere else. One of the options is in college housing, which is what parents will choose for their children away at school.

Census data is protected by law for 72 years. Answers are confidential and only used for statistical purposes. Unlawful data disclosure is punishable by law with a maximum $250,000 fine and five years in prison.

“We don’t share our information with the INS, the IRS or any other outside organization,” Somerville said.

Gary Locke, community development director for the city of Kent, said the city often uses census data in grant or aid funding applications, but the city can’t even get the exact number in each house. It’s impossible.

“The census doesn’t impact the amount of funding, but it describes community characteristics such as unemployment and economic conditions, which have an impact on competition with other communities for grants,” he said, citing the Community Development Department’s Block Grant that Housing and Urban Development uses to determine funding.

The census began in 1790 and is taken every 10 years. This year’s census is the shortest in history. The “long form” no longer exists; it has been converted to an ongoing sample survey throughout the decade called the American Community Survey. Households in areas with high concentrations of Spanish-speaking residents will receive a bilingual form.

The Census Bureau expects the U.S. population will be around 309 million.

Contact public affairs reporter Nicole Stempak at [email protected].