State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

Students Urged to Use Their College Addresses for Census

by on March 17, 2020 5:00 AM

Homes throughout the United States have begun receiving invitations to complete the U.S. Census, a 10-year count of every person living in the country. It also plays a vital role in determining how billions of dollars in federal funds are allocated for public services and programs and apportionment of congressional seats.

And as with most things in recent weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a complication.

Penn State, like many other universities, has suspended in-person classes, closed most of its residence halls, and urged students not to return to off-campus residences. Nevertheless, the U.S. Census Bureau wants students who normally live away from home while at school to use their college address in responding to the census.

"Per the Census Bureau’s residence criteria, in most cases students living away from home at school should be counted at school, even if they are temporarily elsewhere due to the COVID-19 pandemic," a Census Bureau statement said.

It does not mark a change in the bureau's residence criteria, which requires respondents to use where they live and sleep most of the time. For students living away at school, that would be their college address. And when in-person instruction does begin again, university communities will have to account for the same number of residents all the same.

Penn State's University Park campus has an enrollment of 46,723 undergraduate and graduate students as of fall 2019.

"Despite this unprecedented era in which we live with changes prompted by the coronavirus, the fact that students do live here for the majority of their time is reason to fill out the census as a resident of wherever they reside during their semesters at school. For many at University Park that would be as a resident of State College Borough, Patton, Ferguson or College townships." said Charima Young, Penn State director of local government and community relations. 

For the approximately 15,000 Penn State students who live on campus, there should be little impact. The Census Group Quarters Operation is able to count all students who live in university-owned housing through information provided by the school.

"For those who live on-campus, including on-campus apartments owned by the university, they do not need to fill out the census form," Young said. "Penn State will supply information to the census for all students living on campus."

The directory information sent by Penn State does not include demographic data about individual students.

Those who have off-campus residences, however, are being advised to use those addresses, not their families' home, to respond.

Given that most likely were not at their college apartments and houses when the invitation to complete the census arrived, Penn State will be encouraging all off-campus students to go to to complete their census forms individually, noting the residency criteria for most requires them to use their off-campus college address.

When responding online, off-campus students can fill out the forms individually. If using a paper form mailed to their apartment, roommates should complete the form together. The borough and U.S. Census are working to facilitate data collection from fraternity houses, which count as group quarters.

Students can go to for detailed information about the census and residency. Generally, students who live away from home while at school should use their college addresses, while those who live with their parents or guardians while attending school should be counted as part of their families' households. 

The Census Bureau also said it is adapting its communications and marketing as well as delaying the start of its early nonresponse followup operation to residences that haven't responded from April 9 to April 23. 

Census data is key in determining federal funding for everything from road projects and public transportation to education and social service programs to emergency services and more.

"Students who are residents here use many of the vital services that census dollars support," Young said. "Multiple decisions on how money is allocated are based on population. Support for services that impact everyone in the community, including students, such as those provided by hospitals, fire and emergency response teams, police, schools and other critical programs are determined by the census."

The census also is used for congressional reapportionment and redistricting. While Centre County has grown over the past decade, population trends overall indicate that Pennsylvania could lose a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives following the 2020 census.

Census participation is required by law and can be completed online, by phone or by mail. Responses are due by April 1 and census takers will be sent to residences that do not respond.

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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