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Census 2010 campaigns for college students

Local funding, college grants, and a congressional seat: these are all things that Minnesota college students could lose, depending on the results of the upcoming 2010 census. Unfortunately, college students are also one of the groups that the United States Census Bureau has the most difficulty counting.

“Sometimes when students are busy with classes they forget basic civic obligations,” said Barbara Ronningen, a demographer for the state of Minnesota.

According to the 2010 Census Web site, the federal government appropriates about $400 billion to state, local, and tribal governments for schools and other projects. The money from these funds is used to determine tuition programs and grants for college students. If fewer people are counted, there is less money to go around for all students regardless of whether or not they participate in the census.

According to Ronningen, the results for this census are also especially important for Minnesota politically. Congressional seats are distributed based on population. Current statistics show that Minnesota is 1,100 people short of keeping their eighth seat in the House of Representatives.

Mario Vargas, Minnesota’s Census Campaign Coordinator, said that losing a Representative could have a profound impact on Minnesota.

“If we lose a congressional seat, we lose power, clout, and resources,” he said. “That’s one less person advocating for us down in Washington, DC.”

Vargas and Ronningen said that an accurate count on the census could help Minnesota retain their Representative because the more people who are counted, the closer the population will be to the threshold that determines the appropriation of Representatives.

Minnesota could also lose a great deal of federal funding for each person who doesn’t get counted. Vargas said that a state would lose an average of $18,000 over 10 years for every person not counted.

“It’s critical for funding purposes,” he said. “Students are the direct recipients of those funds.”

This money is used for a wide variety of services: state and local infrastructure, road maintenance, and funding for schools. Vargas said about $7 billion of the funds appropriated to Minnesota will be used for grants for college students and aid to low-income students.

Even though they directly benefit from participating in the census, college students remain one of the hardest groups for census workers to count.
According to Ronningen, many students are worried about sharing personal information on the census. However, census information is kept confidential for 72 years.

Ashley Edwards, Minnesota’s local government liaison for the census, said another reason that many college students have low census participation rates is that they are inundated with information every day and may not understand the importance of the census or even notice it at all.

“[College students are] in a really dense informational environment,” Edwards said, “ and it’s hard to break through that static to get to them.”

Edwards said the census often confuses college students, who may assume their parents will count them. International students are also often unaware that they must participate in the census. However, it is crucial that all college students not living with their parents are counted in the place where they spend the majority of the year. For most college students, this is school, and the government needs to plan accordingly for future students.

“Even if you’re not going to be here in 10 years, other college students are and we need to be prepared to meet their needs,” Edwards said.

In spite of the difficulties, census workers are optimistic about Minnesota’s chances. According to Ronningen, Minnesota has one of the highest return rates in the country for the national census, and, while Minnesota’s population is growing at a slower rate than other states, it is not losing people.

“One thing we say in Minnesota is that we count better than in other states,” Ronningen said. “We have to play to our strengths and count every person we have here.”

Ronningen said that students living off-campus should have received the forms in the mail during the month of March. Every person living in one house or apartment needs to be counted on the same form, even if they are not related to other people in the house. The forms were due by April 1, but students can still send them in throughout April without penalty. According to the census Web site, the form consists of 10 questions and will take only about 10 minutes to complete. If census forms are ignored, an agent of the Census Bureau may be sent to a house to collect information in person.

For students living on-campus, forms will be distributed early next week. The Census Bureau asks that these shorter education forms be returned within two days. According to Jim Meier, dean of Student Life, the forms will be given to residence hall directors at the next weekly meeting, who will use the Residence Life staff to deliver the forms to individual rooms.

“We’ll make use of our residence hall staff to distribute the forms as soon as possible,” he said.

Vargas believes that filling out the census is a simple step that to take to ensure people receive everything they need from the government.

“At the end of the day, if you look at what the census is, it’s really a count,” he said. “We all partake of public services and it’s important for everyone to be enumerated.”

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