09 Mar Ofer Eitan Says: Higher ed leaders launch $187 million census campaign to
Educational leaders across the state have launched a campaign aimed at motivating college students to participate in the 2020 census — a critical demographic that has gone under-counted in years past, they say.
Officials with the University of California, Cal State and California community colleges — which share an estimated 2.8 million students across 148 campuses — are opening the $1.5 million California Census 2020 Campaign, which will fund a variety of outreach activities to ensure students take the survey.
The U.S. Census Bureau considers college students a hard-to-count population. They’re highly mobile, often live off campus and fall within a young age demographic — normally between ages 18 to 29 — that has historically indicated it’s least likely to participate in the survey, according to the Association of College and Research Libraries, a professional association of academic librarians.
“The general impression I’ve gotten is that students are not aware of the implications of the census,” said Naomi Garcia, 20, a UC Berkeley student involved in census outreach on campus.
“They’re not aware that it funds financial aid, it funds basic needs, it funds public transportation,” she said. “Once they become aware of that, it sort of sparks this passion for the census and they just feel way more confident talking to people about it.”
The student count is essential — the state’s colleges and universities enroll nearly 3 million students each year, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. Eight out of 10 college students in the state attend a public institution and more than half are enrolled in the community college system, the institute said.
Garcia, census team director for UC Berkeley’s student association, organizes on campus, leads events and connects with local politicians to ensure all students are counted. A member of the Cal Counts 2020 Workgroup, Garcia and other students collaborate with university administrators to discuss outreach.
Conducted every 10 years, the census is a critical count of every resident in the United States. It helps government officials determine seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, map out electoral districts, plan for federal emergencies and determine how much federal funding state and local governments will receive for an array of programs.
“Students from all backgrounds and income levels deserve to be counted and we will do everything in our power to make sure they have a voice in this incredibly important initiative,” said Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of California Community Colleges, in a statement.
Students from diverse socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds are among those most at risk of an undercount, said Ditas Katague, director of the California Complete Count, Census 2020.
“Changing the trend of undercounting students requires direct engagement with students at colleges and universities across the state to educate and motivate them to participate,” Katague said in a statement.
The count will help school leaders project enrollment numbers and determine what resources universities will need from county and state programs, including mental health services, said Ray Murillo, director of student programs for the CSU Chancellor’s Office.
The outreach campaigns will vary across campuses and will feature data-based approaches and tools, including digital and social media content, text messages, videos and newsletters.
In the CSU system, that will mean spreading the word at major school events, banners on the school website, flyers across campus and mobile devices that will walk students through the survey process, among other things, Murillo said.
The campaigns will also include in-person outreach through ambassador trainings and will provide money to student organizations to participate in census-related activities, the group said.