Hennepin County and the University of Minnesota are partnering to reach the ambitious goal of having every University student count in the 2020 Census.
The Hennepin-University Partnership at the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs connected Hennepin County's Census team with Kendre Turonie, Program Director of UMN Off-Campus Living. Hennepin County is providing funding for a student worker to help implement innovative tactics to ensure a complete count of the off-campus student community who, unlike their peers living in the dorms, are not automatically counted by the University.
Tactics include a remote phonebank with UMN students calling on their peers to take the census and answering their questions and concerns. “I am working every day this week at the phone bank for three hours a day and trying to get as many people to complete the census as possible. During the last three weeks I have made 1,000 calls,” says Haley, the county-funded student worker who is majoring in developmental psychology at the College of Liberal Arts.
Haley is also piloting different approaches to reach off-campus students, including a social media challenge asking students to post a screenshot of their completed census form with the hashtag #UMNcensus. The goal is for a winner to be randomly selected a couple times a week from Facebook and Instagram posts with that hashtag. Winners and their roommates (because households report as one) will each get a $10 gift card to a local business of their choice.
When she is not on the phonebank or running the social media campaign, Haley is researching various census engagement toolkits from across the nation and identifying what might work best for the UMN. She is also exploring how other universities are ensuring an accurate count of their students.
An accurate census count is important for many reasons: government funding for programs like Medicare/Medicaid, Federal Pell Grants and unemployment insurance; political representation because Minnesota is at risk of losing a congressional seat if there is an undercount; and services in our community like education, housing and transportation. Hennepin County and the University of Minnesota are committed to making sure that everyone in Minnesota counts, especially historically undercounted communities, which includes students living off-campus.
Off campus students are undercounted in the census for several reasons.
- It is often their first census as adults, so they may not know how the census functions and its importance.
- Some have concerns about how the data will be used.
- Many do not know that they fill out only one census form per household, and others incorrectly think that their parents fill the census out for them at their home address.
In her remote phone banking Haley often has to clear up these types of misconceptions. “On one call in particular, the person was not a citizen, and so I started a conversation with them by explaining that they should still fill out the census and I ensured them the information is private and not used by law enforcement agencies.”
Haley feels a personal connection to the importance of an accurate Census count. She knows that funding for social and mental health services depends in part on the data provided by the census, and she knows a lot of people who depend on these services. “The census has so many impacts that last 10 years or longer,” says Haley.