March 16, 2010

Tompkins County Focuses on Student Participation in 2010 Census

Print More

As Tompkins County prepares to count its residents for the 2010 U.S. census, it is working to promote increased student participation, trying to resolve several census-related problems and misunderstandings from years past. Many common census issues are especially prevalent among the natino’s college students, who account for “25 percent of our county, [which] makes up a big part of our demographic,” said Marcia Lynch, Tompkins County public information officer.

In previous census efforts, the county’s most significant problem was fairly representing college students who live off-campus. This is particularly difficult in Collegetown, which had only a “50 to 60 percent return rate” in the 2000 census, according to City Councilman Eddie Rooker ’10 (D-4th Ward).

The census process is much easier when determining representation for students who live on-campus. In an area “where you have a lot of students living in dorms, [the census has] a different way of counting them. [The census] counts them in group residences. So the [census] forms don’t go to the individuals in the dorms, they go to the dorms and the dorms distribute to the students that live in them,” said Pam Mackesey, chair of the census committee. A similar process is also used to count students living in fraternities and sororities.

However, in residential areas, one census form is sent to each residence. This one form is used to count all residents in one living unit; but students — especially those who have never filled out census forms before — do not always know to include everyone that lives in their building or apartment, explained City Councilwoman Ellen McCol­lister ’78 (D-3rd Ward).

There are other common misconceptions among college students regarding the census, according to Rooker. Students often assume that they are to be counted in the area where they grew up, or where their parents currently live. However, students who live in Ithaca for nine to ten months per year are considered to be residents of Tompkins County and need to be counted as part of the census. This is necessary even for international students, Rooker said.

Students are also sometimes concerned about confidentiality, Rooker said. All information written on the census form is used only to gather data regarding representation.

“[It doesn’t] matter who you are. Even if you are an illegal immigrant, there will be no negative repercussions. We just want to see what kind of people make up the county,” Rooker said.

The data gathered by the census is used to give an accurate representation of the number of people using the county’s resources. From there, governments can determine the county’s eligibility for state and federal government grants, loan applications and funding, among other distributed resources.

One county resource important to college students that is affected by the results of the census is the TCAT bus system, according to Kevin Sutherland, program analyst for Tompkins County.

“Some people argue that there aren’t enough buses that go by, but there would be a lot less if the students [are not fairly] represented,” Sutherland said.

In terms of representation throughout the state and country, data from the census also helps determine legislative districts and affects the election process.

As a region where college students make up a significant amount of the population, Tompkins County relies heavily on the students’ representation. The issue of representation is “a problem all college towns have in common, but I think it’s probably a little worse here in Ithaca because we have a higher percentage of students living in non-campus housing,” McCollister said. He pointed out that at Cornell, a disproportionately large number of undergraduate students live off campus, especially compared to other Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Yale.

In an effort to increase census representation throughout the region, the county has increased its efforts in outreach and education.

A census kick-off event was held last Wednesday at the Tompkins County Library. According to Sutherland, more than 1,500 census quartercards have been distributed to Cornell students on campus.

In an effort to reach out to residents with difficulties understanding English, the “local flyer [has been] translated into eight different languages [through a] partnership with the Translator Interpreter Program at Cornell,” Lynch said, and it has been posted on the Tompkins county website. An event in Collegetown is also being planned on Apr. 10 to further increase visibility regarding the census.

“It’s so important that we get the students now. In general population, if someone doesn’t fill out a census form, then in early May, the census bureau tries to [contact those people], but students are leaving at that time. So that’s the real danger: missing people because they’ve left town,” Mackesey said.

Original Author: Cindy Huynh