Good news for the Terre Haute area’s colleges and universities: The U.S. Census Bureau has taken the pandemic into account.
The Census Bureau on March 20 published the video, “2020 Census: What College Students Need to Know to Be Counted in the Right Place.”
Students who were living in on-campus residency won’t need to worry about their displacement affecting the population count as universities will count those students, U.S. Census spokeswoman Virginia Hyer states in the video.
However, those living off campus who moved back to live with parents, relatives or friends during the pandemic will need to respond to the Census on their own, either through phone, online or by mail, according to the Census.
Indiana State University’s spring enrollment is 11,049, down from 12,531 in the spring of 2017.
The university is working to determine the number of students living on campus, said Mark Alesia, director of university communication.
“ISU is keenly aware of the importance of an accurate census count to the local community and the state. We are committed to actively encouraging our students to respond. ISU formed a Complete Count Committee for that purpose early in the semester,” Alesia said.
Citing the U.S. Census Bureau, Alesia said that “in general, students in colleges and universities temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 virus will still be counted as part of this process. Even if they are home on census day, April 1, they should be counted according to the residence criteria which states they should be counted where they live and sleep most of the time.”
Alesia said ISU “will be contacting off-campus students following spring break to remind them to respond. Students who live on-campus will be reported by the university through the Census Bureau’s Group Quarters operation. This is proceeding as planned prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.”
Dale Long, director of media relations for Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, said the institute is seeking guidance from the Census Bureau “on whether to count currently enrolled students who have left campus due to the COVID-19 crisis.
“We do have a number of students who still reside off-campus in Terre Haute, and encourage them to fill out the census as they normally would. We planned this year, as in previous years, to have groups on campus work with students to ensure they filled out their census information,” Long said. “That outreach may look a little different now, but we will be communicating with students about this in the coming days based on guidance from the Census Bureau.”
Rose-Hulman has more than 2,000 undergraduate students enrolled, of which about 60 percent typically live on campus, Long said.
St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, which is located in the county but not the city, had more than 520 people on campus. Dee Reed, director of marketing and communications, said that campus too will follow Census recommendations for its campus count.
Because federal and state funding formulas are based on U.S. Census population counts, ISU economics professor Robert Guell said it is important to get students counted.
“Cities over 50,000 in population but less than 100,000 population are treated differently than cities under 50,000,” Guell said. “Basically, the only way Terre Haute stays above the 50,000 number is with on-campus college students, and [that] includes Rose-Hulman students,” Guell said.
Funding formulas based on Census populations are used for transportation projects, housing assistance, and health and human services such as Medicare in Terre Haute and Vigo County, which makes counting every student important, Guell said — especially when most students have left campuses, which are instructing through online classes.
Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett said it would take a drastic change for the city to fall below the 50,000 population mark. The city’s population after the 1990 Census was 57,445, and the Census estimated the population in July 2018 (the most recent Census estimate) at 60,753.
“I have not looked at the Census data from 10 years ago in the part of the community where the majority of students live,” the mayor said. “It is definitely something we want to have a discussion about, but I want to look at what the numbers are in the area. I would not expect us to lose so many people that we would get below 50,000,” the mayor said.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Census suspended its field operations from March 18 until at least through April 1.
In late May, per current plans, census takers nationally will begin visiting households that have not yet responded to the 2020 Census.
“As we continue to monitor the evolving COVID-19 outbreak, we will adjust census taker and survey operations as necessary in order to follow the guidance of federal, state and local health authorities,” according to a U.S. Census release.
“The public is strongly encouraged to respond to the 2020 Census online using a desktop computer, laptop, smartphone, or tablet and can also respond by phone or mail. Everyone should respond to the 2020 Census as soon as they receive their invitation — and when they’re finished, they can make sure their friends, families and social networks know about the importance of responding,” the census bureau says.