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Tempe, ASU census collection efforts before fast-approaching deadline

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday the 2020 census count will not be extended to Oct. 31, and all collection operations will conclude Thursday


"ASU and the city of Tempe were on the final stretch to count students, but now a U.S. Supreme Court ruling will end the 2020 census deadline sooner than expected." Illustration published on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020.

After multiple extended deadlines and disagreements due to the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday the 2020 census count will end sooner than expected. The U.S. Census Bureau said in a statement Tuesday all "self-response and field data collection operations" will end Thursday, leaving less than two days for Tempe residents and off-campus ASU students to respond to the census. 

As of Oct. 13, 99.9% of Arizona residents had responded to the census with 63.9% self-reported, according to the Census Bureau website. In Tempe, the self-response rate is a little over 2% higher than in 2010, at 65.7%. 

Self-response rates in the census tracts surrounding ASU's Tempe campus varied, with one tract just west of campus reporting 71%, the tract immediately north of campus reporting 34.3% and tracts east of campus reporting 40-50%.

To encourage census responses from residents in low-response areas of Tempe, the city ramped up its outreach efforts with additional paper questionnaires for households that haven’t responded, events at local grocery stores and targeted social media posts. 

Because students who live in residence halls or Greek housing are automatically counted, efforts to count ASU students for the remainder of the counting period were concentrated mostly on students living off-campus. 

A memo to the mayor and Tempe City Council from city spokesperson Nikki Ripley Sept. 1 said when the University self-reported its numbers before COVID-19, there were 12,000 students living at the Tempe campus. However, about half of ASU’s off-campus students left Tempe in early spring, likely without counting themselves as Tempe residents before leaving. 

According to the memo, the city recently sent 3,000 postcards to residences in several low-response areas to encourage census completion. Candyce Lindsay, co-chair of the Tempe Complete Count Committee, confirmed many of those postcards were returned because of vacancies, which could indicate off-campus students’ exodus from Tempe after COVID-19 hit the U.S.

“I would bet you that might be because the focus on the low participation involved the zip codes that are primarily ASU student communities and a few other communities in Tempe,” Lindsay said.

In a Sept. 15 Tempe Complete Count Committee meeting, Robert Cox, senior director of community and municipal relations at ASU, said many students don’t know about the census, and it can be difficult to conduct follow-ups with off-campus students in Tempe because many live in apartment buildings that require permission from managers to enter.

“Last month, we reached out electronically to remind off-campus students to complete the census,” Cox wrote in an email. “This is an important civic responsibility that impacts the communities where we live, and our goal has been maximum participation.”

According to Michele Grab of ASU’s Complete Count Committee, ASU students, particularly those living off-campus, should care about completing the census. She said because students live in metro Phoenix for nine months a year, they should be counted in Arizona no matter where they are now.

“For every Sun Devil that completes the Census you're helping the state earn money for things like federal student loan programs, health care, affordable housing, job creation and public transportation,” Grab wrote in an email. “It's estimated that an undercount of just 1% could mean a loss of 62 million dollars to the state over the next 10 years.”

Grab said although it is difficult to know how many students participate in the census because the responses are confidential, she hopes students realize how important their participation in Arizona is.

“It takes just a few minutes but its impact lasts 10 years,” she wrote. “It affects how many representatives we have in Congress, student loans, public transportation and more that directly affects students and it's important that students understand the impact. It's part of our civic responsibility.”

Reach the reporter at and on Twitter @GretaForslund.

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