2020 Census & student privacy: What you need to know

July 13, 2020
  • Compliance and Reporting
  • Recordkeeping Compliance
  • Records and Academic Services
  • census
  • covid-19
illustrated figures making up a map of the continental US

Has your institution done its part to assist the U.S. Census Bureau in the collection and distribution of student information?

The 2020 Census count is critical for determining representation and the allocations of federally funded programs, including those in higher education. Historically, certain groups of people have been disproportionately undercounted by the Census. The U.S. Census Bureau identifies all college students as a hard-to-count population because they are highly mobile, may live off-campus as renters, and often difficult to persuade to participate.

The shift to distance learning due to the COVID-19 outbreak forced students living both on- and off-campus to return home, complicating this year's Census operations. Bureau representatives have begun their outreach to campuses and will continue over the next few months to verify and collect certain directory information on students in group living quarters, including college residence halls, as well as students living in non-college/university-owned housing.

FERPA generally permits such disclosures and we strongly urge all of our members to work with the Census Bureau to provide them with the particular directory information items it is seeking: name, address, and date of birth. However, because directory information must be limited to information that is not generally considered harmful or an invasion of privacy, it cannot include items such as social security numbers, race, gender, or ethnicity.

AACRAO is engaged in conversations with the U.S. Census Bureau and the Student Privacy Office of the Department of Education to ensure that colleges and universities can assist in the collection and distribution of information related to students while also complying with long-standing student privacy requirements. For more information, webinars, and resources, visit AACRAO’s 2020 Census & Student Privacy webpage.


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