Standing Up for the Count: With Federal Dollars on the Line, Colleges Are Working to Prevent an Undercount of College Students in the 2010 Census

Article excerpt

When the U.S. Census Bureau begins conducting its official national population head count April 1, the outcome of its efforts will, in part, reflect how successful it has been in partnering with colleges to drum up interest among students in participating in the national head count.

Racial minorities and college communities have historically been among so-called "hard to call" population groups in America and have tended to be undercounted in the national population head count conducted by the Census Bureau once every 10 years. This year could produce the same results, absent significant outreach by the Bureau and the nation's colleges and universities.

"The Census is perhaps the most significant decennial event occurring in America because it affects everything from the drawing of Congressional districts to the flow of resources to the community," says Dr. Charlie Nelms, chancellor of North Carolina Central University.

"If you're not counted, you're counted out," says Nelms, whose school provided the Census Bureau with computers and classroom space last fall to test job prospects. The school also gave the agency space in the school's football stadium concession area, called E-town, to distribute information about the Census.

By law, the Census count is used to determine how many seats in the United States House of Representatives each state gets until the next Census is conducted in another 10 years. As importantly, population figures gathered by the Census are used to create mathematical formulas to determine how some $450 billion in federal revenue is divided each year among the states in the form of federal aid.

A good Census count means a lot for colleges and college communities that look to the federal government for all kinds of assistance, officials say, ranging from aid for tuition grants to funds for academic research and funds for area and campus safety programs.

NCCU was not alone in its bid to help. Tuskegee University in Alabama opened its doors last fall to Census promoters who gave away Census T-shirts, literature about the upcoming count and information about temporary jobs as Census workers. Savannah State University in Georgia was set to send students this winter to a Census Summit aimed at mobilizing college students.

In Michigan, where the poor state and national economies have caused major population losses, Census officials have partnered with Detroit's Wayne State University, Michigan State University and a number of area community colleges to work together to put the Census on people's radars.

The University of Texas, San Antonio, has a 15-member task force, led by the school's president, developing one of the more ambitious plans among colleges for stimulating interest and participation in the Census, says John Kaulfus, associate dean of students at UTSA, a school with a large Hispanic enrollment.

UTSA has developed a Census video to be played during the half time of UTSA home basketball games this winter. …