Everything you need to know about the 2020 Census

A look at what the census is, how it works and how it impacts students directly

This year, all individuals residing in the U.S. will document where they live as of April 1 for the 2020 census, a count of the population that occurs every 10 years, and the University will play a large role in counting ASU students.

Students living on campus will receive information from ASU later in the semester on how to complete the census. Off-campus students can access the census form online starting March 12.

Reapportionment of representatives

Article 1 Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution explains that the number of representatives from each state must be reapportioned every 10 years. Each representative presides over a district within a state, and the population data collected by the census determines the number of seats a state has in Congress.

Arizona currently has nine representatives. Election Data Services predicted that Arizona's population growth could earn the state a 10th seat in Congress.

This correlates with Maricopa County's recent growth spurt. In 2019, the Census Bureau reported that Maricopa County topped the list of fastest-growing counties in the U.S. from 2017 to 2018. 

ASU has also been a contributor to Arizona's noticeable growth, as reports show the institution has been growing more than ever. It enrolled over 100,000 students for the very first time for the 2017-2018 school year. 

Census impact on ASU and city funding

Not only does the census provide the number of representatives for Arizona in Congress, it also determines how much funding from the government goes into federal student loan programs, housing and public transportation, among other programs.

Nikki Ripley, communications and media relations manager for the city of Tempe, said an accurate population count is vital for these programs to receive federal funding. 

"It's very important to the city that we count every resident that's living here because the federal funds that we get for any number of things hinge on an accurate population count," Ripley said. 

Housing, transportation and other federal programs rely on data accumulated from the census. 

Alec Esteban Thomson, executive director of the Arizona Complete Count Committee, said the result of a miscalculation would be extremely problematic. 

Thomson said, "Our priority is for every Arizonan to be counted for," because a 1% undercount could cost Arizona $62 million from the U.S. government annually.

Data accumulated from the previous census determined the U.S. government distributes over $675 billion in federal funds annually based on Census Bureau data. ASU reported the state could earn about $3,000 from the federal government for every student who completes the 2020 census.

From the buildings that make up ASU to the roads and neighborhoods surrounding campus, Thomson said data from the census provided the federal funding for these infrastructures. But infrastructure is only the beginning. 

The census also impacts students by funding financial aid departments with the money it needs to provide post-secondary students with financial assistance.

The Federal Pell Grant Program, the largest federal aid program for U.S. undergraduates, distributed one of the largest amounts of federal funds using data from the Census Bureau in 2015.

The William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program is another financial assistance program that receives funding from census data. The direct loan program offers students and parents loans from the Department of Education, to later be paid back with interest.

Both the Pell Grant and the direct loan program were among the top six programs with the most allocation of funds in the fiscal year 2016 based on data derived from the 2010 census.

Tempe and ASU initiatives

Ripley said the Tempe Complete Count Committee has been meeting since December 2018 to ensure an accurate count of the city's residents. Planning has included hosting information booths at events, adding signs on city trash and recycling trucks and even giving coloring sheets to children. 

The city has been using these communication tools as a way to also reach out to college students. 

"We're aiming for a reminder to alert students when they log into school computers," Thomson said. "Texts and emails will be sent to students as well to ensure they know how and when they can fill out the census."  

Ripley and Thomson report that ASU has its own complete count committee to tackle the role of informing students as well. 

The ASU Complete Count Committee is focusing on making sure off-campus students are aware of the census and will be counted on April 1. 

Additionally, the Associated Students of ASU have vowed to take measures to spread awareness of the census and encourage students to make sure they are counted, like creating a website to educate students on the impact of the census and why it's important to complete it. 

However, freshman social work major Valeria McClure said she has not seen information about the census from ASU at all. 

"Census day is coming quickly, and after what I've heard, it's very important that we students are informed of what it is so we can be ready," McClure said. 

Group Quarters operation

Thomson said another aspect of the census that involves college students directly is the Group Quarters operation, a process specially made to calculate the many Americans in group living arrangements. 

For college students, this includes student housing, such as residence halls and sorority and fraternity houses that the universities recognize. The Census Bureau works with housing departments to transfer administrative records and count residents. 

The operation helps ensure a complete count and allows for people living in shelters and service-based locations to be counted for.

Residents of apartments and other complexes would respond to the census normally. Students living off campus would fill their census out independently, not through their university.

In April, Bureau administrators will begin visiting college students who live on campus and other group quarters residencies to guarantee a complete count.

First online census in U.S. history

Besides the GQ operation, the Census Bureau is taking extra steps this year to keep calculations as accurate as possible. For the first time in U.S. history, the census can be filled out online.

People across the country can complete the census from their smartphones or their computers. By April 1, every home will receive an invitation in the mail explaining how to respond online.

"We want to ensure that our residents are getting their fair share," Ripley said. "The way we do that is through the most accurate count we could possibly get."

Reach the reporter at ekgalin1@asu.edu and follow @eringalindo29 on Twitter.

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