Census Bureau updates guidelines for students amid COVID-19 pandemic

Here's how ASU students who moved off campus will be counted and how the pandemic affected census operations

The U.S. Census Bureau recently announced that students who moved out of university housing due to COVID-19 will still be counted by the University for the 2020 census.

The Census Bureau said it was adjusting its operations to gather a complete count in the safest way possible due to COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus. 

The census occurs every 10 years and accounts for everyone living in the U.S. The census serves to reapportion state representatives and determines federal funding that flows into communities. 

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about the 2020 Census

"The Census Bureau is taking this step to help protect the health and safety of the American public, Census Bureau employees, and everyone going through the hiring process for temporary census taker positions," the Bureau said in a statement.

Although Census Day is still April 1, the Census Bureau said it would extend the deadline to complete the census until Aug. 14. 

Follow-ups with households that have not completed the census have been delayed, and facilities with group living arrangements, such as student housing, will not commence the Group Quarters operation until April 16.

"Should any additional adjustments need to be made, the Census Bureau will communicate these changes broadly and promptly," the statement said.

Alec Esteban Thomson, executive director of the Arizona Complete Count Committee, said the current situation with the spread of COVID-19 can serve as a reminder about why completing the census is so important. 

"It reminds us that we need to know where people are so we can make sure that we have the services and resources available for them in local communities," Thomson said.

The census has also asked for on-campus students across the country to be counted at their universities, even if they are not currently living there. 

Students who lived in residence halls and sorority and fraternity houses during the 2019-2020 school year will be counted automatically through ASU thanks to the Group Quarters operation, a process specially made to calculate the many Americans who live in group housing. 

"Students live nine months out of the year in one of our four campus communities," said Michele Grab of the ASU Complete Count Committee. "We want them to be represented there." 

According to Grab, ASU submits "de-identified information" to the census on students' behalf. 

"We're going to say 'there's a resident ... who has this demographic information,'" Grab said. "We are not submitting personal information on your behalf, but we're submitting the information the census needs to know in order to compile their data." 

Grab said the committee's biggest initiative has been reminding off-campus students to complete the census. 

"If you live off-campus, you actually have to go and complete it (yourself)," Grab said. "We wanted to make sure that was clear." 

A 2020 Census tab is included under priority tasks on students' MyASU pages. For students living in university housing, the tab informs students they will be automatically counted by the University and that they "do not need to take any further action."

For off-campus students, the tab includes where students should count themselves and how they should fill it out with their household. Grab encourages those living off-campus to complete the census with their roommates.

"The census would prefer that there's one census form for each household," Grab said. 

Some students who lived on campus may have filed themselves at a different residence after moving off-campus due to coronavirus concerns. 

"The census has ways to make sure there's no duplicate information," Grab reassured. "People shouldn't necessarily worry too much about that."

The census includes a question that asks if a resident usually lives somewhere else. Students who lived on campus for the 2019-2020 school year but moved off campus have the option to say they lived elsewhere "to attend college."

"They might call you for follow-up," Grab said. "The census does a lot of follow-up with people. That's part of the reason why they ask that question." 

Additionally, people do not need to leave the house to complete the census. For the first time in U.S. history, the census is now available to fill out online. 

"While people are spending more time at home, it's a great opportunity to make sure that their family is counted," Thomson said.

Residences should have received letters in the mail, providing a census ID unique to the residence that can be entered on the census website. Those without internet access should look out for a census form in the mail or can complete the census over the phone.

"We're doing everything we can to encourage Arizonans to complete their census," Thomson said. "It has never been easier to do it online, by phone or mail."

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

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