March 8, 2010

Where are you? Census Bureau needs all students to weigh in

Johns Hopkins University students are being urged to be on the lookout. This month, the U.S. Census Bureau began mailing forms to college students around the country who live off campus, asking them to complete a set of questions. Students living in university residences will receive individual questionnaires in April and May. Students are expected to fill out the forms and either mail them to the Census Bureau or turn them into a designated census return site. In other words, don’t ignore the forms, and don’t toss them in the trash.

This is the message that the federal government and university officials, including those at Johns Hopkins, are putting out to college campuses as the nation undergoes the 2010 Census—a process whose data will ultimately form the basis of many of the country’s political, economic and social decisions. The data also helps determine how much money colleges and universities receive from the government.

“We take the census count very seriously,” said Susan Boswell, dean of student life on the Homewood campus. “So we ask that when students receive these forms, they fill them out and get them returned promptly.”

As in past years, census and university officials are pushing for a more complete count of college students. Historically, this group has been difficult to track because the students tend not to fill out the questionnaire, according to census officials. Often, they think that it is their parents’ responsibility to fill out the form, or the students, particularly those from foreign countries, think they are not supposed to participate in the count. Yet, a college student who lives in a dormitory, apartment, fraternity or sorority house away from home is considered a resident of the city or town in which he or she lives during the school year. This is true regardless of citizenship or immigration status.

“The 2010 Census wants college kids to get counted where they usually live, and this means for them to be counted in college dormitories and off-campus housing,” U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves wrote on his census blog.

At Johns Hopkins, the push is on to make that message clear. Since early fall, university leaders have been working with census officials to ensure that students receive the forms and turn them in. To help spread the word about the importance of the census, posters are going up on campus buildings, and contests are being planned to encourage students to participate in the count.

Census guidelines state that students living at one off-campus address are considered one household, so only one form should be completed. That form, which will arrive by mail, should include information on all the people living at that address.

To reach students living in university residences, census takers will distribute the forms, and on the Homewood and East Baltimore campuses, census takers will be posted at several locations to collect the forms. Drop-off locations have not yet been determined.

Mandated by the U.S. Constitution, the census provides the government with an accurate count of the U.S. population. Everyone who is 18 or older must fill out a form. Data collected through the census also helps decide, for example, how many seats a state gets in Congress, and how the federal government distributes to local communities more than $400 billion for hospitals, job training, education, emergency services and more.

This year’s form consists of 10 questions asking for a person’s name, sex, age, date of birth, race and origin, if the signer is of Hispanic descent. The form should take no more than 10 minutes to complete, according to census officials. Students who are studying abroad are not required to fill out a census form.

Students should not be concerned about their privacy when filling out the form because by law the Census Bureau cannot share respondents’ answers with anyone, including other federal agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service or Immigration office.

For more information about the 2010 Census, go to