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Counting College Students

This is quite a different message about Missouri’s statewide 2020 Census efforts than I started out to write. In just a few short days, so much has changed, and continues to change, due to our state’s and nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am sure that each one of you reading this today has already experienced some disruption — large or small — as we all work together to keep up with quickly changing information and circumstances.

Our UM System and University of Missouri response to 2020 Census planning is no exception. We’ve had to quickly fine-tune and revise messaging — especially around instructions to students enrolled at our state’s colleges and universities.

I am one of 18 members of the Missouri 2020 Complete Count Committee, a coalition of Missouri government, businesses, higher education, non-profits and community groups appointed by Gov. Mike Parson, to help make sure every person in Missouri gets counted. An accurate census count is critically important as it helps determine our state’s share of federal funding for essential services and political representation for the next 10 years. The data also help local communities plan strategically for the future. 

For every person not counted, Missouri loses an estimated $1,300 every year for 10 years until the next census. This impacts our share of resources for things like housing, schools, workforce development, road and bridges and so much more. Everyone — whatever their age, citizenship status or housing situation — counts.

As part of Missouri 2020 Complete Count efforts, the UM System developed a comprehensive Missouri 2020 Census Higher Education Tool Kit. This resource provides streamlined communications to all higher ed institutions statewide. College students are among the hard-to-count populations. It takes coordinated outreach to make sure they participate and accurately count themselves in their college community of residence. This tool kit continues to be particularly useful as the U.S. Census Bureau rapidly adjusts its messaging to reflect the new reality: many students will be temporarily displaced from their campus communities on April 1, 2020. 

Important revised messaging from the U.S. Census Bureau clarifies that students should count themselves where they typically would be on April 1, 2020, were it not for current disruptions. For instance, a University of Missouri student who has gone back to a family home in St. Louis or Chicago during this period of remote learning should still count themselves as living in Columbia. The Missouri S&T student who goes back to Cape Girardeau should still count herself as living in Rolla. This message will be key to getting an accurate count of Missouri’s college and university students.
Parents and families need to hear this message, too, so they do not improperly include these college-aged children in their household count.  

This message also applies to the general population. Adults who might be elsewhere on April 1, temporarily looking after an elderly family member in another community, for instance, should still count themselves as living at the residence where they normally reside. 

As the U.S. Census Bureau has emphasized: For most individuals and households, it has never been easier to respond on your own, whether online, over the phone or by mail — all without having to meet a census taker.

The Census Bureau continues to carefully monitor the coronavirus situation and follow federal, state and local health guidelines. They are adjusting operations, as recommended and needed, with two key principles in mind: protecting the health and safety of its staff and the public and fulfilling the statutory requirement to deliver the 2020 Census counts to the President on schedule. 

Currently, the planned completion date for data collection for the 2020 Census is July 31, 2020, but that date can be adjusted if needed to achieve a complete and accurate count. 
I also invite you to take a look at our MU Extension and Engagement resource page developed for faculty and staff. Many of them are leading local efforts across Missouri’s 114 counties and the City of St. Louis to ensure an accurate count. These resources give you a sense of the scope of our work and our commitment to ensuring every person and community participates in this essential effort.

I wish you continuing good health and safety in these uncertain times as we ensure an accurate 2020 census for Missouri and our nation.
Marshall Stewart, Ed.D.
Chief Engagement Officer, University of Missouri System
Vice Chancellor, University of Missouri Extension & Engagement

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