Though University students completed the 2010 United States Census at a lower rate than the national average, according to one expert, students’ participation rate was actually quite impressive.
University students’ response rate for the 2010 census was 68 percent, up three percentage points from the 2000 response rate. Despite the increase, the University’s census participation was still lower than the 72 percent national average.
Lisa Neidert, a senior research associate at the University’s Population Studies Center, wrote in an e-mail interview that the response rates can be misleading and should be evaluated within the context of previous census results.
“The student neighborhoods continued to lag behind the city of Ann Arbor, but there was improvement over 2000,” Neidert wrote. “The student neighborhoods improved, whereas Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, (the) state of Michigan (and the) U.S. all remained at their 2000 participation rates.”
The state of Michigan maintained its 77 percent participation rate from 2000, Washtenaw County participation remained at 79 percent and the city of Ann Arbor remained at 78 percent.
Neidert explained that overall census participation has been decreasing over time, and the fact that the University increased its response rate from the 2000 Census is something to be proud of.
“The (U.S.) Census Bureau was very happy with (national and state responses) ‘staying the same,’ ” Neidert wrote. “The fact that student areas improved is a big plus.”
According to Neidert, the University was divided into six census tracts, or neighborhoods. Out of the six, only the North Campus tract decreased in participation — from 70 percent in 2000 to 59 percent this year.
Neidert wrote that the large number of international students living on North Campus may be one reason for the disparity between overall campus participation and North Campus participation.
“It is quite likely that this community was not aware that they should be filling out census forms even though they are just living in Ann Arbor temporarily,” Neidert wrote.
Neidert also explained that the numbers for the other campus tracts can be misleading because students in residence halls did not receive census forms in the mail like students living in houses and apartments.
Instead, students living in residence halls filled out group quarter forms, which are not included in participation rate statistics. This may be one factor that contributed to the lower response rates on campus because the percentages don’t include the majority of University students who submitted forms.
However, Neidert wrote, the fact that census participation is significantly lower among students compared to the national average cannot be disregarded.
“In general, college students have low participation rates with the census,” Neidert wrote. “This is mostly because students do not understand that they are responsible for filling out their census forms unless they are living with their parents and commuting to UM on a daily basis.”
She added that student census participation is necessary because a lack of responses can be detrimental to the University since the census count is associated with the distribution of federal funds.
However, Neidert wrote that University participation was good compared to other Big Ten schools.
“I was not disappointed with the UM showing,” she wrote. “It was better than in the past … We ended up beating Ohio State and MSU.”
Neidert added that the Census Bureau knew that getting students to participate would require extra effort.
“The Census Bureau defined college students as a hard-to-count community and prepared materials to reach students,” Neidert wrote. “They did not do that in the past.”
On campus, University officials encouraged students to fill out forms by sponsoring a YouTube contest that let students make videos promoting census participation.
While the Census Bureau also tried to maximize response rates by distributing informational materials to campus communities, Neidert wrote that the bureau could improve its strategies. One way to do this would be to reach out to the University community earlier by working with the administration and student leaders on campus.
Robert Groves, a former University professor and the director of the U.S. Census Bureau, has two sons in college and addressed the issue of lower participation rates among students in a 2010 Census blog post published last December.
While only one census report is required per household, Groves wrote that college students “don’t think of themselves as a ‘household.’ ”
“There is no one roommate who takes on the role of the head of household,” he wrote. “The roommates come and go on their own, rarely eating together, mainly gathering together on the weekends to watch TV sports. They leave the small amount of mail they get in their box for several days before gathering it up.”