Call it Counting 101 for college students.
Area leaders are beginning to work on a major campaign to educate university students on the importance of participating in the upcoming U.S. Census.
“Quite honestly, when I was a freshman or sophomore in college, I probably just assumed my parents were going to take care of that for me,” said Sue Hack, a co-chair of the new Douglas County Complete Count Committee. “But we can’t afford for students to treat it that way.”
That’s because if students leave it to parents to fill out a census form that lists their existence, the students may incorrectly be left out of the population count for Lawrence, or for Baldwin City in the case of Baker University students.
Despite popular misconceptions, Kansas University students should rightly be counted as a part of Lawrence’s population, said Rich Gerdes, assistant regional Census manager.
“All we try to do is look at where they live the majority of the year,” Gerdes said. “Because they live in Lawrence the majority of the year, we want to count them as part of Lawrence’s population.”
The census, which is required by the U.S. Constitution, plays a major role in determining how many seats an area receives in the U.S. House of Representatives, and is used heavily by the federal government in determining a variety of federal grants. The Census Bureau estimates $300 billion to $400 billion per year is distributed to communities based on census numbers.
Douglas County residents should be receiving a simple, 10-question form via the mail from the Census Bureau in mid-March. But local leaders are concerned that many university students will ignore the mailing because it comes at about the same time as spring break.
“And hopefully, we’ll still be playing basketball at that point, and the census may be a little low on the priority list,” Hack said.
The census will start sending out employees to knock on the doors of individuals who have not returned a form. But much of that work does not begin until May, which is a month when many students are leaving town for the summer.
The new city-county Complete Count Committee is working to make contacts with student groups now, so they will know to look for the form in the mail. The committee is expected to apply for various grants to create a formal education campaign, and likely will use social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to reach the student population.
“We’ll employ the traditional avenues, too, but it has been 10 years since we’ve had a count, and a lot has changed, especially with how we communicate with each other,” said Jerry Young, a regional partnership specialist with the Census Bureau.
The local group will be encouraging nonstudents to promptly fill out the form as well. Leaders are optimistic that changes to the census process will make it easier for people to quickly fill out the form.
The 2010 Census marks the first time where people won’t be asked to fill out the “long form,” which asked for information about everything from jobs, travel times, home heating sources and a variety of other demographic data. Now, everyone will be sent a short form that has 10 questions that are basic in nature, such as age, address, gender and race. The long form information is gathered through a separate survey that now happens every year.
“We’re telling people the new form is 10 questions and it will take about 10 minutes to fill out,” Young said.