Census officials push to count college students in West Campus

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — With only two weeks left, Austin-Travis County census leaders are pushing to get the word out and ensure more people fill out the census before the deadline.

Census officials are reaching out to various communities including those hardest to reach such as Asians, Blacks and Latinos, but Austin-Travis County’s Census Program Manager John Lawler said there is another group falling behind — college students.

“There are thousands of apartments that still need to get counted and what they’re finding is a lot of time those renters have changed over the summer months,” Lawler explained.

When COVID-19 hit this spring, colleges went virtual and many students left for the summer. For census officials that’s become a problem.

Lawler said in the Travis County area, they’re specifically having trouble in West Campus. An area where a great part of students live off-campus. He said the issue is the majority of the student population is made up of renters.

The latest self-response data on Sept. 11 from the West Campus area shows an average of 37% of people as counted.

Austin – Travis County Census Strategy Map shows a snapshot of the University of Texas at Austin area in the yellow and orange blocks including West Campus.

“When Census Bureau knockers are going to those doors there is no one there to answer,” he said. “When we send a postcard there’s no one there to read that postcard and when we serve a digital ad to that neighborhood the devices aren’t there to see it.”

The nonprofit Move Texas has teamed up with student groups to get the word out about the census, but Lawler said students continue to fall behind.

“Students are a vital part of this city,” Charlie Bonner, the nonprofit’s communications director said. “The census is absolutely critical for our communities and so, of course, I’m worried.”

While some students are back on campus for the fall semester, many more are learning online and that move has left a lot of those apartments that need to be counted with a new renter or empty.

“This is our last great big chance to capture the attention of those in our community and let them know that now is the time, there’s no more waiting, you have to take the census,” Lawler said.

The University of Texas started working with the community and local leaders on census efforts in April 2019. Earlier this spring, they also teamed up with student leaders and led a social media campaign.

Students who live on-campus or in university apartments were counted by the university.
In May, University Housing and Dining submitted a count of 8,000 to the U.S. Census Bureau.

University officials said they’re working with West Campus property owners to promote the census.

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