St. Paul, Minn. — It was 5 p.m. in the lobby of the library of Metropolitan State University, and Clara Ware was sitting behind a table covered with pens, notepads and buttons with the Census 2010 logo, calling out like a sideshow barker.
“Here comes a prospect,” she said as a student walked up.
Ware explained that filling out the census form this spring could mean more money for the university and the surrounding neighborhood, one of the oldest and most diverse in the city. The student took some knickknacks and promised to fill out her form. Ware smiled.
“If we could get some more of that funding back, we could get some more services,” said Ware, 48, a member of the commuter school’s Student Senate who is among a group that has been pushing the census in classrooms, lobbies and hallways.
Colleges, universities and their surrounding communities have a financial interest in making sure all of their students get counted in the census, so public relations campaigns like the one at Metropolitan State are popping up all over the country.
The stakes are high. The government uses census data to apportion seats in Congress and dole out about $400 billion annually in federal funds. It’s also used in federal tuition grant and loan programs, so a thorough count of college students in 2010 can mean more money for higher education in the state down the road.
At a Missouri technical university, students are handing out Census-branded screwdriver sets. At the University of Texas’ Arlington campus, students have posted a Census-themed parody of the popular “The Real World” TV show on the Web. At Kent State University in Ohio, a student team pushing the census is planning to hit off-campus bars later this month to stamp the address of their Facebook page on the hands of revelers.
And at the University of California at Berkeley, some students will be entered in a raffle to win textbooks when they turn in their census forms.
Still, it’s not an easy sell, said Marty Takimoto, a marketing professor and chairman of a committee working to get Berkeley students counted. “College students are notoriously bad at filling out forms of any sort,” he said.