2010 Census: Ann Arbor's student population is hard to count, but key
The 2010 Census forms are now in residents' hands, but the U.S. Census Bureau faces a formidable challenge in and around Ann Arbor: students.
Students are more mobile and live in residence halls, rental units or other crowded housing arrangements - and they're typically gone by May. Those factors make students hard to count for the big decennial survey, but anyone who isn't counted translates into lost dollars.
In 2000, the lowest Census response rates in Ann Arbor were in student neighborhoods. The city had an overall participation rate of 78 percent in 2000, while the statewide average in Michigan was 77 percent.
"Students are really hard to follow up with," said Lisa Neidert, a senior research associate with U-M's Population Studies Center. "They're transient populations, so you really have to get them when you can."
Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com
Getting students counted is no less important than tallying the city's permanent residents. Students may not stick around for the next 10 years, but just like townies, each is worth $826 a year for the next decade to Washtenaw County, according the Brookings Institution, which estimated how much U.S. residents who are counted are worth per year in federal dollars, based on 2008 data.
A total of 41,000 students are enrolled at U-M's Ann Arbor campus. And while it's difficult to say how many live within the city limits, at least 10,000 reside in university housing around town.
Complicating matters further is a misconception among many parents and students, officials say. Students from outside Ann Arbor often believe they should be counted back home or not counted at all - but that's not true.Â
The U.S. Census Bureau wants everyone counted where they live for the majority of the year - including college students living away from family and even foreign students with no legal standing as residents.
U-M's Institute for Social Research launched a video contest to spread the word to students about getting counted in Ann Arbor.
"The Census on Michigan Time," by U-M College Democrats, took the top honor and a $1,000 prize for reminding students to fill out their forms as part of the daily grind. The video illustrates it's just as easy to fit a Census form into a student's day as typical student activities like waiting for a clothes dryer, checking Facebook or riding the bus.
Peter Logan, the director of housing communications, said he hopes posters in residence halls, fraternities and sororities and e-mails to all students and their parents help to get the message out, too.
Why getting counted is important
Because the Census determines the flow of more than $400 billion federal dollars to states, it is especially critical in Michigan, said Neidert, who co-teaches a course called Census 2010: Moving Power and Money, with fellow population studies researcher Reynolds Farley.Â
In 2008 alone, Census-related statistics determined federal funding for $287 million worth of programs in Washtenaw County - from highway planning to energy assistance for low income households, according to the Brookings Institution.
But netting federal cash isn't the only thing the count will do.
The purpose of the Census is to re-allocate power among seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, although based on demographic projections, Michigan is set to lose a congressional seat regardless. The year following the Census, state legislatures will also re-draw their districts.
Overall, low participation can equate to inaccurate population counts, weakened representation in Washington and in Lansing, lower federal funding for programs and a more expensive Census, Neidert said.
The U.S. Census Bureau will send out workers beginning in May to knock on doors and complete the count, an expensive endeavor it estimates will cost about $56 per household - compared to $0.42 it will cost the government if the form is mailed back. The Census Bureau will base plans for in-person follow-up on the number households that haven't mailed back forms by April 19.
Meanwhile, the forms from Ann Arbor and elsewhere are trickling in. As of Friday, 26 percent percent of residents in Ann Arbor had returned their forms by mail.Â
Five key informative Census Web sites:
- Learn about how the 2010 Census works.
- Follow live participation rates for the 2010 Census for your community from the Census Bureau Web site with this interactive map.
- Get questions about residency and the Census answered.
- View informative Census videos targeted at college students, created by University of Michigan students.
- Read about why the government says it's important to mail in your Census form by April 1 and other topics on this blog by Census Bureau Director Robert Groves, a U-M professor and former director of the U-M Survey Research Center.