Will college students make a mark on the 2010 Census?

By Michelle Williams

(Courtesy U.S Census Bureau)

At the start of 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau began a four-month campaign to inform the public about the Census, which starts April 1, yet still citizens remain confused, especially students.

University of Massachusetts students wonder whether to declare themselves in Amherst or back home, why the government is asking questions about their households, and whether to even fill out the form.

As written in the United States Constitution, it is required that every resident in the country be counted every 10 years. According to the United States Census 2010 Web site, “The 2010 Census will help communities receive more than $400 billion in federal funds each year,” for services including hospitals, schools, public works, and emergency services. The data will also help determine the number of seats each state receives in the House of Representatives.

Dr. Douglas L. Anderton, an associate dean at UMass and an expert in population studies, said it benefits citizens to fill out the Census in order to receive federal funding.

“The Census is important for the rational allocation of program funding across geographic areas by the federal government,” Anderton said. “For example, if you want to project school enrollments for your town in the near future to plan for a building, or the number of seniors who are disabled and require special services in a small town, the Census is a primary resource.”

People living in the United States are required to fill out the Census based on where they are living as of April 1. Regardless of country citizenship, or hometown residency, the U.S Census Bureau asks all to fill out and return the form based on where they live and sleep for majority of the year. For students, the U.S Census Bureau asks that they declare their main residence as their on or off-campus home. This includes students who are citizens of the U.S., international students, and all others, regardless of citizenship status.

In times of financial hardship, UMass Chancellor Robert C. Holub is urging students to fill out and return their Census forms. In an e-mail sent to the UMass community, the chancellor said, “The results of the Census determine how federal funds are allocated to Massachusetts and our local communities. These results affect college tuition grants and loan money.” 

Director of news and media relations Ed Blaguszewski also stressed the need for students to fill out the Census.

“So much of the University funding is really tied to the census. If we maximize the amount we receive, we can only benefit.”

Blaguszewski added that filling out the Census would benefit students financially, as well.

“The amount of money received in part determines the amount the University can spend on loans, and the funds used towards student and faculty research,” said Blaguszewski.

The Census will also note population growths, and distribute more funds to growing communities. According to a UMass analysis of updated census numbers, Hampshire County was the eighth-fastest growing county in the state.

Based on the results of the Census, legislators will draw a new map for 200 House and Senate seats. For Massachusetts to keep its 10 U.S House seats, it needs to count 70,000 to 90,000 people more than the last estimate, taken July 1, 2009, according to a Boston Globe interview with Kimball Brace of Election Data Services, a political consulting firm in Washington. Massachusetts has around 330,000 college students, which could help the state keep all of its 10 congressional seats.

For nearly four months, the Census Bureau has been running a national advertising campaign through radio, television, billboards and the Internet. Starting off with an advertisement during the Golden Globe Awards, the $133 million campaign sponsored advertisements during Super Bowl XLIV, the 2010 Winter Olympics, as well as posters in UMass’ own W.E.B. Du Bois Library.

Ads were produced in over 28 languages and, according to the Census’ website, “the 2010 Census advertising campaign will reach the average person 42 times, with messages around the importance of participating in the Census.”

Hoping to increase groups which have a history of not participating, more than half of the advertising was geared towards reaching minority and ethnic audiences.

Despite spending record amounts on advertising, Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves said this would save the government money. In a press release, Groves said, “For each percentage point increase in the national mail-back response rate, the Census Bureau saves taxpayers about $80 to $90 million in costs associated with having to send Census takers to non-responding households for in-person interviews.”

In spite of high spending on advertisements, freshman English major Nicole Martori said she had never heard of the Census.

An out-of-state student from Arizona, Martori said, “No, I don’t plan on filing out the Census because I have not received or heard anything about it. I believe my parents have declared me as still a resident of Arizona.”

Hoping to increase participation, the Census is short, consisting of ten questions. The questions ask how many people live in the residence, how to contact the residents, what type of home the residence is, and demographics, including, age, sex, and race. The decision to keep the census short is a part of the “Take 10” program, created by the Bureau to increase response rates, publicizing that the census would take less than 10 minutes to fill out.

This effort is appreciated by international student Hermann Kam Jun Wei. A citizen of Singapore, Wei had never heard of a country counting residents before, but said he doesn’t mind.

“I don’t have much qualms about filling it out, if it doesn’t take too long and if it doesn’t ask questions that I’m uncomfortable in answering.”

For international and domestic students who have questions about the Census, student to student resources are welcoming questions. With booths set up in the Campus Center, the Lincoln Apartments, North Village and the Integrated Science Library, students offer resource guides in 15 languages including Chinese and Korean.

Winnie Shaway Lin, a first-year graduate student was stationed in the Campus Center Tuesday afternoon to offer advice to students. Lin, a bilingual student, said she was happy to help other students with the Census. If she is unable to help, Lin said “If I am not familiar with the language a student needs, I can refer them to another student or online resource.”

Michelle Williams can be reached at [email protected]