Officials worry about COVID-19 impact on student census count

By Greg Oliver
Courtesy The Journal

CLEMSON — Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced university students to go to online learning, many have returned home.

As a result, Central and Clemson officials recently expressed concern about how the absence of students will impact the census count that impacts funding.

“We’re going to get hurt depending on how they count people,” Central town administrator Phillip Mishoe said. “When the college kids left, they’re gone. We’ve put fliers on trashcans, and if we can get the permanent residents counted, maybe that will help. Clemson is hurt worse than we are since they have more students than we have, but it still hurts us.”

Clemson city planner Art Holbrooks agrees.

“On our end, with the students being such a critical part of our count, we are going to continue to promote participation for as long as we need to,” Holbrooks said.

Holbrooks said the city is continuing efforts to promote the census through social media, the city website, email blasts and its community newsletter. In addition, the city is participating in the local Complete Count Committees and working with the Census Bureau and neighboring communities.

“We want to be ready when the university does open,” he said. “Of course, timing will play no small role in what other things we try.”

In working to get as accurate a student count as possible, Holbrooks said officials are looking for ways to reach those who lived in off-campus developments.

“Although the task has been made difficult by the current situation, it is critical that we help the Census Bureau do as good a job as they can,” Holbrooks said.

Mishoe said extending the deadline for the count to be turned in would be one way of helping municipalities.

“If they would extend it to the fall when the students come back, that would help us,” Mishoe said.

U.S. Census Bureau assistant regional census manager Marilyn Stephens said the bureau is doing just that. Stephens said the window of field data, collection and response has been extended 120 days to Oct. 1. That is in comparison to the original timeline of March 12-July 31.

“Students in off-campus housing will either have to go online, use a toll-free number or a paper questionnaire,” Stephens said.

Stephens added that most of the colleges and universities are working hard to ensure as accurate a census count as possible.

“Most of the colleges and universities understand and are sending information to students about how to be counted,” she said.