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Stand Up and Be Counted

Student census participation helps determine future representation, resources for Durham and North Carolina

The U.S. Census logo over a map of North Carolina counties

Despite a number of operational adjustments due to the global pandemic, the 2020 U.S. census forges on, seeking an accurate count of every single person who lives in the United States’ 50 states, five territories and the District of Columbia. The Constitution requires a census every 10 years, with the results affecting political representation and the allocation of funds to states, counties and other jurisdictions for roads, bridges, health care, education and other important services.

Under normal circumstances, the Census Bureau would have a small army of people knocking on doors—literally—to give out census forms and encourage participation. Social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has halted that approach for now.

“Especially with door-to-door census work paused, it’s more important than ever that members of our community take action to be included in the census,” said Mary Pat McMahon, vice provost and vice president for student affairs. “With more than 16,000 students and 40,000 employees, we all need to be counted in order for North Carolina and Durham County to receive funding for infrastructure and resources we all depend on.” 

A choropleth map of North Carolina showing percentage of census response by county at the end of April

Most undergraduate students don’t need to fill out census form; most graduate and professional students do

How students get counted depends on where they lived during the 2019-2020 academic year. Students who lived in campus housing – including 301 Swift -- as of March 1, 2020, do not need to complete a census questionnaire, as they are automatically included in student-directory data Duke reports to the Census Bureau. 

Undergraduate and graduate/professional students who lived off campus as of March 1, 2020, will not be included in Duke’s report and should complete a census questionnaire based on their usual place of residence as of March 1. 

“We especially want to encourage all graduate and professional students to participate,” said Chris Simmons, associate vice president with Duke’s Office of Government Relations. “They’re a very important part of our community, so we want to make sure they are counted as part of the census.”

Census participants to determine future N.C. congressional representation

Between the 2000 and 2010 census counts, North Carolina’s population grew enough to earn the state a 13th member of Congress.

Since the 2010 census, the state has continued to grow. “North Carolina’s 2019 population was estimated at 10.5 million,” said B.J. Rudell, associate director of POLIS: the Center for Politics at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy, who also sits on Durham County’s Complete Count Committee.

“If everyone fills out their census forms online or on paper, we stand to gain additional representation in Congress,” he noted. As larger states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois continue to lose congressional representation, North Carolina could become one of the country’s most influential states in the next couple of decades, Rudell added.