Colleges and universities rely heavily on federal funding distributed based on the census. At the same time, college students have proven to be a challenging population to count.
Those two factors have inspired higher education institutions in San Antonio to work together to make sure their students are counted in the 2020 Census.
“When we look at the undercount for the past census, there were two populations that were grossly undercounted,” said St. Philip’s College President Adena Williams Loston at the San Antonio Complete Count Committee in November. “One is 18-34, young and mobile. That’s the college community.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, men 18-29 and renters were both undercounted during the 2010 Census. African Americans, Latinos and children under the age of 5 were also undercounted.
Because of the risk of an undercount, Williams Loston said colleges in San Antonio formed a higher education task force for the 2020 Census. They’ve agreed to do 10 things to get out the count on their campuses, including sending out mass emails to students, building an online portal directing students to a census FAQ and creating a designated space on campus to fill out the census.
U.S. Census Bureau Director Steve Dillingham visited the University of Texas at San Antonio in late November to see how those plans were rolling out.
He said the college student population represents a unique challenge during the census because their home address is often different than their current address.
“Sometimes there will be some confusion, but people are to be counted where they're living that year. So if they're living on campus or at a campus, they should be counted there,” Dillingham said. “It doesn't matter where your voter registration is, or if you're not a state student or whatever. It's actually where you're living. And that's why it's so important we capture the correct count of the student population.”
UTSA Dean of Students LT Robinson is spearheading census efforts for the university. She said the main point they’re driving home for students is that federal financial aid, including Pell grants and subsidized loans, are dependent on the census.
“The reason why it's so important for each individual student to be counted is because if there is an undercount, the census will not know that we need the amount of funding that we need,” Robinson said. “If a student is counted somewhere else, maybe if they're from somewhere in California, some other part of Texas, they'll think the funding needs to go there as opposed to here.”
As part of the 10 steps agreed to by the higher education task force, Robinson said she was working with student government and other groups to plan several census activities, starting with their semester kick-off Roadrunner Days in January.
UTSA President Taylor Eighmy said ensuring an accurate student count is part of the university’s responsibility as a public, Hispanic-serving institution.
“It’s a form of voting, if you will,” Eighmy said.
TPR’s Paul Flahive contributed to this report.