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Census 2020: UT Expert Answers Questions about the Upcoming Count

The US census will take place on April 1, 2020, and a UT expert says it’s important for everyone—including college students—to be counted.

The US Constitution requires that the census be conducted every 10 years and Tennessee—which has been included in every federal census—will be counted for the 24th time in 2020. In 1790, when the state was known as the Southwest Territories, the population was counted at 35,691. In the most recent census in 2010, Tennessee’s population was tallied at 6,375,431.

Tim Kuhn, director of the Tennessee State Data Center, housed in the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research in UT’s Haslam College of Business, has been appointed to Governor Bill Lee’s Complete Count Committee announced last week.

“It’s an honor to serve on this committee and help with efforts to achieve a complete and accurate count of Tennessee’s population,” Kuhn said. “This group and the work of cities and counties across the state are especially important to raise awareness of the census and motivate people to respond next March.”

Kuhn, along with 37 other government and community leaders—including Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally, Secretary of State Tre Hargett, Tennessee Higher Education Commission Executive Director Mike Krause, and Senator Becky Massey—will work alongside the US Census Bureau to develop ways to encourage Tennesseans to participate in the 2020 Census. Kuhn explains how the census works and what’s new about the 2020 count:

What kind of information is collected?

The census collects information from households, residence halls, and nursing homes—and even transitory living places like shelters and campgrounds—to gather a complete count of residents on April 1, 2020.

The 2020 census questionnaire includes seven questions about each person in a household and four questions about the household itself.

Each person is asked to provide some basic information, including age, birth date, race, Hispanic ethnicity, and relationship (parent, child, sibling, nonrelative, etc.). For the first time, people will denote same- and opposite-sex spouses and partners.

There is no longer a census long form with questions about household income, educational attainment, and housing characteristics. These are collected annually via the American Community Survey.

How will I be contacted?

People living in houses and apartments should receive an invitation via the US mail to complete their census form around mid-March 2020. For the first time, responses can be submitted online using a phone, tablet, or computer. Responses also can be submitted by phone using a toll-free number. Both the online form and phone response are available in 13 different languages. In Tennessee, only households that don’t respond to the first several invitations will receive a paper form.

What about college students?

The Census Bureau will work with the college or university’s housing department to come up with the best way to get a complete and accurate count of students living on campus in residence halls and in fraternity and sorority houses.

Students who live off campus should expect to receive a form and participate like other households. But since many college students relocate in May, it’s critically important to their college’s community, county, and state that they provide their response before they depart.

Why are college students problematic for the census?

Research shows that people under age 25 and those living in rental housing are the least likely to respond to the census. Most college students fall into these groups.

Also, college students are very mobile—especially around graduation time in May—and census workers can have trouble tracking them down.

The online response options should make it easier than ever for students to respond.

If I’m a college student, should I be counted on campus or in my hometown?

The census is intended to count people where they reside on April 1, 2020.

Even if a UT student spends the summer with a parent or living elsewhere, they should be counted as a resident of Knoxville for the purposes of the decennial census.

This is important for families to remember so students aren’t counted twice.

What if I forget to respond?

After a series of reminders, a census worker is dispatched to collect the information. This is one of the costliest aspects of the census. Areas around campus should expect to see census workers beginning in early April.

Why is my response so important?

Not responding to the census jeopardizes Tennessee’s representation in Washington, DC, as well as individuals’ representation at the state, local, and district levels, even down to city council districts.

It’s also critical for economic reasons: hundreds of billions of federal dollars flow to states, cities, and counties based on funding formulas tied to the population counts.

How does the government protect the privacy of my personal information?

Federal law says that census data can be used only for statistical purposes and that responses are not to be shared with other government agencies. There can be substantial fines and jail sentences for violating this law or disclosing confidential data.

What else is new about the 2020 census?

Technological revolutions since the 2010 census have been huge. In addition to giving people the ability to respond online, the Census Bureau will be using new technology to enhance its internal work flow—from improving how it maintains its list of US households to equipping field workers with mobile devices to using analytics to evaluate the 2020 response rate in real time.

How do people use census data?

For data users across the state, the decennial statistics collected are incredibly important for monitoring the growth of communities, population demographics, and detailed housing unit and vacancy information. It also serves as the foundation for numerous other census surveys that business and government agencies depend upon.

About the State Data Center

The State Data Center is a cooperative program funded by the state and in partnership with UT and the US Census Bureau. Data centers in all 50 states assist the bureau by disseminating census and other federal data. The center supports and trains data users statewide. It provides expertise to businesses, government, and residents about data availability and usage. It also produces, analyzes, and disseminates data in meaningful and creative ways.


Erin Hatfield, Boyd Center (, 865-974-6086)