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Coronavirus and Census: How do displaced college students respond?

It’s a busy time as colleges and universities respond to the COVID-19 coronavirus in Tennessee by transitioning to online classes and preparing for students to leave campus and residence halls for the remainder of the semester.

That’s a lot to coordinate, but keep in mind that the 2020 Census is still moving forward. Students at institutions across the state still are counted at their campus address even if they have moved back with their parents or guardians for a couple weeks or the entire semester.

The Tennessee State Data Center is working with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association, and the chair of Gov. Bill Lee’s Tennessee Complete Count Committee to ensure a complete count of college students in Tennessee in the midst of some of the more trying circumstances we can imagine. Communities that are home to college campuses across the state are depending on a good Census outcome.

Students Living Off Campus

The short answer: They still need to log in to and fill out a Census form for everyone living in their off-campus housing, even if they’ve moved back home with their parents or guardian.

This contingent of students will be particularly hard to reach if they’ve moved away for the semester and don’t get their mailed census forms. We will share further information soon for colleges and universities to target these students by email or social media in hopes of increasing their participation.

We have developed a set of outreach tools that colleges can use to reach off-campus students. All the materials are free to download and can be customized for your campus. The materials include:

  • Flyers and other digital media
  • Social media posts
  • Email-communications

Students Living on Campus

If you’re a Group Quarters (GQ) administrator, the U.S. Census Bureau has released an update on how to count everyone living on campus.

eResponse instead of Paper Forms

If your institution originally opted to use paper forms (also known as dropoff/pickup), you should be hearing from your Census Bureau GQ contact about transitioning to eResponse. This is a simple operation in which you provide student data in an Excel template that is securely uploaded through a Census Bureau website.

Census Bureau Resources

There are a number of resources on the Census Bureau website that provide an overview of the process, including:

FERPA Guidelines for GQ Responses

Be aware that FERPA guidelines dictate what student information can be shared with the Census Bureau. As was the case in 2010, only “Directory Information” for on-campus students, who have not requested to be excluded (opted out), can be shared. Directory information varies campus to campus, but relevant fields are often limited to:

  • Name
  • Local address

Occasionally these policies are more permissive and include other relevant fields in the Group Quarters template such as:

  • Permanent address
  • Birth date

While the Census Bureau template includes additional information such as gender, age, and race/ethnicity, FERPA laws prohibit the disclosure of any non-directory information without obtaining student consent for the release. This is an incomplete submission, but GQ staff at the Philadelphia Regional office indicated that it will be sufficient.