Counting students for the census

June 2, 2020
  • Compliance and Reporting
  • census
  • covid-19
American flag with the 2020 Census booklet on top

Hosted by AACRAO, representatives from the Census Bureau provided an update on their modified data collection timeline, procedures, and field operations. 

COVID-19 Updates

“We observed that the response rates from some college towns are lower than expected cause the kids have gone home due to the COVID-19 situations,” said U.S. Census Bureau representative Judy G. Belton.

AACRAO urges all institutions to work with the Census and remind all off-campus students who missed their 2020 Census invitation to respond via internet ( These students should be counted, even if they are temporarily elsewhere due to COVID-19.

The Census Bureau reached out to universities asking them to choose either the eResponse or the Group Quarters Enumeration Paper Response Data Collection option in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. While students can’t self respond with these methods, the Census Bureau can at least enumerate them. 

However, note that there are FERPA implications. Under FERPA, schools can provide Directory information without student consent; however, schools cannot include gender or race/ethnicity as directory information. 

For more information and essential resources, visit AACRAO’s 2020 Census and Student Privacy page. 

Why is the Census important?

Held every ten years, the data collected from the Census is used to draw congressional and state legislative districts, school districts, and voting precincts. The data from the Census directly informs federal, tribal, state, and local government planning decisions--including where to allocate funding. College and university student housing is specially defined under the Census data collection. The question is where should postsecondary school students be counted?


  • students who are living away from their parental home while attending college in the U.S. (living either on-campus or off). 

  • students who stay at their parental home during breaks and/or vacations. 

  • foreign students living in the United States with attending college in the U.S. (living either on-campus or off)

  • Staff members living in college/university housing

Don’t count

  • students living at home with their parents while attending school 

Definitions of College/University Student Housing

  • Managed by the college/university: GQ Type 501

  • Managed by a private company: GQ Type 502


Enumerators, also known as census takers, conduct research on behalf of the U.S. Census Bureau. 

Group Quarters Enumeration (In-Office and In-Field) is April 1, 2020 - August 26, 2020

  • In-office: 

    • April 1, 2020-June 30, 2020

    • Electronic response data transfer (eResponse)

  • Alt Paper Response Data Collection

    • Mail out/mail back: April 20, 2020-June 30, 2020

    • Paper administrative records

  • Paper Response Data Collection

    • Pickup: July 1, 2020-August 26, 2020

    • Paper administrative records  



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