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A Complete Count of College Campuses Vital to Tennessee Communities, Funding

This week, 2020 Census invites will begin showing up in mailboxes across Tennessee. At that point, the race is on to get students counted at colleges and universities before many leave their on-campus dorms or off-campus housing for the summer.

Like all residents, the U.S. Census Bureau will count college students where they reside on April 1. That means a student’s apartment or dormitory, not the permanent address of a parent or guardian.

In Tennessee communities with higher education institutions, accurate Census counts are a high priority because those counts translate into important state revenues. Unfortunately, getting students and other adults in this age group to respond to the Census could be a challenge.

Research into the last nationwide Census in 2010 showed that areas with concentrations of people age 18-24 was a leading factor in failing to respond. A Pew Research survey this year reinforces that finding, showing that only 61% of adults under age 30 said they “definitely” or “probably will” respond.

College-age students studying in a campus common space

If the Census Bureau can’t correctly count Tennessee’s estimated 234,000 college students ages 18-24 at the houses, apartments and dormitories where they live during school, it can mean thousands of dollars in lost revenue for the community were the institution is located.

Cities and town in the state are estimated to receive $145 for each resident in the upcoming fiscal year, according to University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Services. That money comes from the state’s sales and gasoline taxes, and Census numbers collected this spring will be the basis for the state’s funding allocation over the next 10 years.

For small towns like McKenzie, Tennessee, there’s a lot riding on a complete count. Home to Bethel University, the 2010 Census reported 512 students living in dormitories—that’s about 10% of the town’s 2010 Census count of 5,310 people. New dorms have opened since then, which makes the 2020 count even more significant.

The revenue streams from larger campuses in the state are even more significant. The University or Tennessee, Knoxville’s 7,236 on-campus residents could generate in excess of a $1 million dollars in state-shared revenue next budget year based on current estimates.

“UT and the City are working together to make sure the 2020 Census count is accurate and complete,” Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon said. “Everyone counts in a connected, inclusive, welcoming community like Knoxville. So we want to make sure everyone get counted in the Census.

“At stake is money for services that benefit the UT community directly – things like sidewalk and bicycle infrastructure, health care, public safety and transit. More than $1 million a year goes a long way toward making Knoxville safer and greener.”

Students living in off-campus housing raise those numbers even higher. So what is being done to help students respond to the 2020 Census?

Off-campus students

The 2020 Census will be the first time college-age students will be asked to participate in a Census. Some won’t be aware that they should list their residence on April 1, and some may even be unaware of their required participation.

Off-campus students should expect their Census invites to arrive between March 12-20. Philadelphia Assistant Regional Census Manager Michelle Archer, who oversees 2020 Census operations in Tennessee, said this only leaves a short window of time to collect responses.

“Since classes end in late April or early May, we know that the clock’s ticking to reach students who live off campus across the state,” Archer said. “In order to make the most of that six-week period, we’ve teamed up with our partners in Tennessee to pinpoint neighborhoods that are popular with college students. We’ll go out in those neighborhoods in early April to follow up with residents, and hopefully get a more complete count of everyone who’s living in those areas.”

More than two-dozen campuses and 109,000 housing units have been identified by the Census Bureau for door-to-door follow up in an attempt to gather more responses. Before this begins, students will receive multiple mailed reminders and will be given an option to submit a response to the Census online.

On-campus students

For the estimated 53,500 students living on campus at Tennessee’s colleges and universities, the process won’t be the same as the internet response or paper forms used by the state’s 2.6 million households.

For any student living in housing owned by a college or university—group quarters such as dormitories, fraternities and sororities—the institution they attend determines which method the Census Bureau will use to count them.

With a new electronic response option introduced in the 2020 Census, higher education has more options to ensure students are properly counted at school.
Administrators of group quarters across the U.S. most likely have been contacted by Census representatives—letters went out on Jan. 14 that explained the process. Representatives from the Census Bureau followed up these letters with phone calls on Feb. 3, 2020, to verify information about the group quarters—such as name, address, contact name, phone number, maximum population and group quarters type code—and to schedule a date and time for the group quarters administrator to conduct the count.

Students living on campus should follow instructions from their college or university about how they should respond to the Census.


Table 1. Projected FY ’20-21 Municipal Revenues from 2010 Census Counts of On-campus Housing in Tennessee
This table shows the number of students living on campuses in Tennessee as reported by the 2010 Census. The cities and towns listed receive revenues from the State of Tennessee which are estimated to be $145 per person in FY ’20-21 according to the Municipal Technical Advisory Service.
Institutions Municipality 2010 Census On-Campus Housing Proj. FY ’20-21 State Share Revenues from On-Campus Residents
Austin Peay State University Clarksville 979 $141,955
Bethel University McKenzie 512 $74,240
Bryan College Dayton 549 $79,605
Carson Newman University Jefferson City 973 $141,085
Cumberland University Lebanon 336 $48,720
East Tennessee State University Johnson City 2,657 $385,265
Freed-Hardeman University Henderson 1,087 $157,615
King College Bristol 386 $55,970
Lee University Cleveland 1,747 $253,315
Lincoln Memorial University Harrogate 610 $88,450
Lincoln Memorial University Cumberland Gap 163 $23,635
Martin Methodist College Pulaski 284 $41,180
Maryville College Maryville 747 $108,315
University of Memphis, Rhodes College, Christian Brothers University Memphis 3,973 $576,085
Milligan College Elizabethton 492 $71,340
Middle Tennessee State University Murfreesboro 2,911 $422,095
Southern Adventist University Collegedale 1,472 $213,440
Tennessee Tech University Cookeville 1,920 $278,400
Tusculum University Tusculum 550 $79,750
Union University, Lane College Jackson 2,455 $355,975
University of Tennessee, Knoxville Knoxville 7,236 $1,049,220
University of Tennessee, Chattanooga Chattanooga 2,963 $429,635
University of Tennessee, Martin Martin 1,781 $258,245
Vanderbilt, Belmont, Lipscomb Trevecca Nazerine, Tennessee State, etc. Nashville-Davidson 13,660 $1,980,700