Effect of Covid-19 College Shutdowns on 2020 Census University Group Quarters Counts

Please excuse the off-topic post.  Has been any news about how the Census Bureau plans to handle the effect of the Covid-19 college shutdowns on group quarters enumeration for the 2020 Census?  This strikes me a big issue for communities like mine (Cambridge, Massachusetts). There would also seem to be the increased possibility of double counting of formerly dorm residing students at their family home, if the students are living there on Census Day (April 1).

Here is an article about the potential effect on the household enumeration:


  • Yes, I know exactly what is going on with enumeration of college students in GQ and in households off-campus. I am trying to draft a memo by tomorrow that will be circulated widely to census stakeholders. (I'm drowning.) Please sit tight! Bottom line, though: the residence rule governing where college students will be counted will not change. The bureau already is working on modified operations in some areas, and duplication is a concern. Communications and messaging will be key. Thanks! (Your census whisperer, Terri Ann Lowenthal)
  • Hi, Cliff: We put together an explainer re: college students and the census and have been updating it with COVID-19-related guidance. I hope this helps!


    We will continue to update it with any additional information from the Bureau.

  • In reply to Rebecca Tippett:


    Thank you - this is very helpful. For the purposes of the question I asked, the key passage is this:

    COVID-19 UPDATE: College students who typically live away from their family’s home & are no longer on campus on/before April 1, due to guidance from the school or public health authorities, should use college address when responding to the Census. (Source: Census Bureau via Hansi Lo Wang, NPR.)

    COVID-19 UPDATE: College students who live off campus and are no longer on or near campus on/before April 1, due to guidance from the school or public health authorities, should follow the Census Bureau instructions for Responding to the 2020 Census without a Census ID number.

    If college/university GQ students are to be counted as living on campus that reduces a great deal of anxiety for myself and others who work with communities with large number of student residents. The danger now is double counting of these students both at school and at a parent's residence. I hope the Bureau has procedures in place to manage this situation.

  • In reply to Rebecca Tippett:

    Thanks for this. It's a great explainer. But I'm not sure it covers every possibility. Worst case scenarios: we will need a clearer guidance from Census Bureau about the situation of college campuses that do NOT re-open before summer break.

    If a student lives in campus housing (a dorm) that is closed down in March/April, then the best option may be, seriously, WAIT to complete the census. Wait and see if students are called back to campus in a month or month+.
    • If students are called back to campus in March or April, then students will be counted at their on-campus address. (This is what the official statement from Census Bureau Communications says.)
    • If a college does NOT re-open before summer break, that will be a real serious problem. The Census standard is: people are counted wherever is their “usual residence” in April 2020. And if a college is closed ½ of March and does not re-open until August/Sept., then ???

    So we will need clarification from Census Bureau. The March 11 press release just says “where a community, facility or service organization makes a change that would affect any field operation, we will adapt to make sure we are getting the same population counted another way.” Does that mean, as UNC CPC says, go online at my2020census.gov and do a "Non ID" response, giving the usual address at college?
    Or does it mean a student should report his/herself at wherever s/he is usually spending nights in April?

    Todd Graham
    principal demographer
    Metropolitan Council
  • In reply to Todd Graham:

    Todd, I do understand the additional confusion. I have talked to very senior Census HQ staff, and here's the bottom line.

    The residence rule governing where college students should be counted will not change, despite the changed living circumstances some might be facing as of April 1st due to the coronavirus (CV). The bureau understands that the count of these students, temporarily displaced even for months due to the epidemic, is critical for towns and cities that are home to large numbers of college students. Unlike some natural disaster situations, such as wildfires in Paradise, CA, where homes were destroyed and (therefore) uninhabitable according to Census Bureau guidelines, students have been displaced temporarily, and we are not talking about instability in the housing stock (also important for a census to capture).

    The bureau is working with colleges that selected the Individual Census Questionnaire method, to encourage them to switch to the electronic data records transfer method (e-Transfer) for students living in Group Quarters. Fortunately, about 60% of all colleges/universities opted for e-Transfer so far (during Advance Contact operation). Students who would have been living in college-run housing on April 1, were it not for CV, will still be counted as if they are in their dorms, residence halls, and so forth.

    The bigger challenge, I think, are students living on their own off-campus, in apartments or sharing leased houses with roommates. They, too, I have confirmed, should be counted as if they were still living there on April 1, even though they may have been urged to return "home" due to CV. These students will receive regular census packets through the mail, but might not be there to get the materials. This is situation to which Becky is referring. If these students have gone back to their parents' home due to CV, they can go on-line (or call) and do a non-ID response using the address of their "college residence." Their parents SHOULD NOT include them on the census form.

    So ... what we all need to do is help the Census Bureau get out the word to college students and their families about how and where they should be counted. It's a heavy lift, but the messaging can be clear and simple.

    I hope this is reassuring and clear!

    Terri Ann
  • In reply to Terri Ann Lowenthal:

    THANKS Teri Ann. You were able to get the answer from the Census Bureau HQ. (I was not able to. I expect they're fighting fires there.)

    The next things we need are:
    For Census Bureau itself to package this into a webpage or post.
    And to communicate it!
    And then partners like you and I can point people to the new guidance.

    In the meantime... what you heard from Census HQ staff confirms the information on the NCdemography website. I'm pointing people to that... www.ncdemography.org/.../

    --Todd Graham
  • In reply to Todd Graham:

    You are 100% right, Todd. The bureau should issue a clear, concise statement on this specific issue. I did tell them that cities were kind of freaking out about this and that additional communications and guidance would really help. :-)

    Terri Ann Lowenthal