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As the census deadline approaches, here's what college students need to know

DTH Photo Illustration. A student fills out the United States Census. The 2020 Census is a critical way for students to stay civically engaged and for their voices to be counted for.

Sept. 30 will be the final day people can submit the 2020 census. The census is a massive national undertaking by the United States Census Bureau to assess the population of the nation, taken at the start of each decade. 

The census plays a large part in determining where resources are allocated for things like schools, infrastructure and public services. 

Because many college students split their time between their college residence and their family home, there are a few important things for college students to remember when completing the census. 

People are counted at the address where they live most of the time, even if this was not where they were on April 1, the official census day. For example, if a student’s primary residence is their off-campus housing, but they were visiting their parents on April 1, they would still fill out the census with their off-campus address.

Students who were in on-campus housing are counted by the University through the Group Quarters program, so those individuals do not need to take action. 

Students who were forced by the pandemic to leave their on-campus housing before April 1 will still be counted at that address by the University for the purposes of the census. 

Because college communities are historically undercounted in the census, local governments have engaged in purposeful efforts to try to remedy the undercounting. 

One such effort is the Complete Count Committee, an Orange County government body designed to help the Census get accurate numbers in the area. Todd McGee is community relations director for the county and a member of theComplete Count Committee. 

“The census is important just because it helps determine $675 billion in federal funds,” he said. “College kids need to know that they should fill it out — don’t rely on their parents to do it.”

The census is used to track where people actually live and, therefore, where money needs to be spent on public services. It also has an impact on political representation. 

After the census, the 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives are reallocated to reflect shifting population between states. North Carolina is among those predicted to gain a seat after the realignment takes place in 2021, giving the state a 14th congressional representative.

Redistricting for state legislators will also occur, with boundaries being drawn by the legislature itself. This process is controversial and often results in gerrymandering, something that several lawsuits have been filed over in recent years. 

The census can be completed entirely online at, where a survey asks respondents about the number of residents in the household, whether the house is owned or rented, telephone number and names and demographic information of residents. Only one response per household is necessary. 

Vivian Clarke is an out-of-state student who completed the survey on the census website.

“The survey was pretty simple and straightforward, surprisingly,” she said. “It only took me 10 minutes to complete. I feel like the Census Bureau does a good job of walking the responder through the process.”

Kristen Smith Young, community relations director at UNC, is another member of the Orange County Complete Count Committee and manages outreach between Chapel Hill and the University.

“The Census Bureau did a really good job of talking about why recent college graduates should be interested in the census,” she said. “It helps plan funding for the Federal Pell Grant Program, so it has an impact on education funding, and as students enter the workforce, businesses rely on census data to make decisions about where to hire.”


@DTHCityState |

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