Some college towns plan to challenge census results, saying they were understated
Some college towns say they were undercounted in the 2020 census and plan to challenge its results, saying the data could result in a loss of federal money and prestige.
Communities in Bloomington, Indiana, Tuscaloosa, Alabama and State College, Pennsylvania are seeking to dispute the population figures, which officials say are not accurate.
Municipalities partly blamed the pandemic for the undercount, saying the March 2020 loss of students in their hometowns caused miscalculations during the census, which began around the same time.
“You can go crazy thinking about the variations,” said Douglas Shontz, spokesman for the Borough of State College, home of Penn State University, where officials believe the census missed 4,000 to 5,800 residents.
For more Associated Press reporting, see below.
Because universities were able to provide the Census Bureau with records of students living in dormitories and other on-campus accommodation, off-campus students “risked being missed,” said Dudley Poston, a sociology professor at Texas A&M University.
An Associated Press review of 75 metro areas with the highest share of residents between the ages of 20 and 24 showed that census results fell well below population estimates in some cases, but also exceeded them significantly in others.
University town officials aren’t sure why there was such variation, and they’re investigating whether it was due to the timing of spring break, outreach efforts, or the percentage of students living on campus versus off. . Another variable is whether schools cooperated when the Census Bureau requested records of off-campus students. Only about half of the schools did so, as many had privacy concerns or did not have the requested information.
The AP review showed population numbers were lower than estimates by about 5-7% in Mount Pleasant, Michigan; Greenville, North Carolina; and Bloomington, Indiana, metropolitan areas, home to Central Michigan University, Eastern Carolina University, and Indiana University, respectively.
The 2020 census estimated the city of Bloomington at 79,168, down from about 80,405 in 2010. City officials expected a 2020 tally of 85,000 to 90,000. of the country was just getting started in March 2020 when schools including Indiana University told students not to return to campus in response to the spread of the coronavirus. Most of the university’s 48,000 students were on spring break.
“It’s just not a believable number,” Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton said. “The simplest explanation is that the count was made after the university told students, ‘Don’t go back to Bloomington and go back to your parents. “I don’t blame anyone. The university did the right thing to protect its students.”
Counting university students has always been a difficult task, even before the pandemic. The Census Bureau’s rule of thumb was that students should be counted at their college address, even if the coronavirus temporarily sent them elsewhere on the April 1 date that provides a benchmark for the census.
At State College, home to Penn State’s 39,000 students, the office’s pre-pandemic message was that people should be counted ‘where they sleep most of the time’, confusing students after returning home . As a result, student-dominated neighborhoods had the lowest census response rates in the borough, State College borough superintendent Tom Fountaine said in a memo to city officials.
In Greenville, North Carolina, home to East Carolina University’s 29,000 students, the census figure fell more than 6% below estimates, and Mayor PJ Connelly worries it could affect the ability of the city to obtain funding for its bus system and social housing. Connelly plans to challenge his town’s count of 87,521.
“We believe there were student-based miscalculations,” Connelly said.
Some metro areas such as Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Huntsville, Texas had census numbers 6% higher than their estimates, according to the AP review. The cities are home to the University of Alabama and Sam Houston State University respectively.
Even so, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox estimates that thousands of off-campus students have been overlooked, and the city plans to challenge the numbers. The 2020 tally puts the city at 400 people short of 100,000 people, which could cost it access to some federal funding that is only available to cities with 100,000 or more people.
“In terms of economic development, the perception of being above 100,000 has a greater psychological impact on your recruitment and development,” Maddox said.
Auburn, Alabama, home to Auburn University, had census counts well above estimates, but city officials believe the high tally was just a correction for an undercount in 2010, said city spokesman David Dorton.
Cities, states and tribal nations can start challenging their numbers in January through the bureau’s Count Question Resolution program, but it only considers miscalculations, such as an overlooked housing unit or incorrect boundaries. . The program only revises the numbers used for population estimates over the next decade that help determine federal funding. The Census Bureau will not revise the numbers used to determine how many congressional seats each state gets or the redistricting data used to draw congressional and legislative districts.
“While we anticipate more cases due to the many challenges faced by the 2020 census, scope will be limited and data products will be limited,” Census Bureau official Matthew Frates told Texas Demographers and Economists. during a presentation. last summer.
There have been victories in the past, such as the City of Houston’s effort to grow its population from 2.09 million to 2.1 million after the 2010 census. The change sparked the addition of two seats on the city council.
“It’s going to be an uphill battle, but it’s worth a try,” Shontz said at State College.