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MC and the census, Part II

Barry McNamara
02/08/2010
Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series on the upcoming 2010 census and how it relates to Monmouth and to Monmouth College.

While getting an accurate count of its Latino population is a major objective for the City of Monmouth as it looks ahead to the 2010 census, there is another key segment of the populations that needs to be counted as well – residential college students.

Judi Kessler, an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Monmouth College, recently addressed the question of where its students should call home.

“Students are supposed to be counted in the place they live most of the year,” said Kessler. “Parents are not supposed to count their kids as living with them if they are living at a residential college. But I bet many students list their home as their family residence.”

According to the Web site 2010.census.gov, “College students living away from home should not be counted on their parents’ questionnaires. People should be counted where they live and sleep most of the year, so students living in on-campus housing will receive their questionnaires there.”

Sandi Beveridge, a Peoria-based partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau, explained that a checks and balances system is in place with regard to possible double counting of college students.

“One of the boxes asks, ‘Does this person sometimes live somewhere else?’ We have an entire area devoted to quality assurance, and they would follow up in a situation like that.”

“Collecting census information is enormously important,” said Jacquelyn Condon, MC’s dean of students. “The data is used to determine representation, congressional districts and how $400 billion in federal and state aid is used. Local governments and private citizens can also use data to analyze and better understand local residents’ needs and services that are needed. College students living away from home now will be counted in the area where they live and study, making it possible for their data to be considered in local decisions.”

Emily Caron, a senior from Romeoville who is interning for the City of Monmouth, is helping to get the word out to MC students about the census.

“So far, I have completed a flyer that will be posted around campus closer to the time and a fact sheet that will be put in students’ mailboxes,” said Caron. “Both focus on the importance of having the students recorded here in Monmouth and not in their hometowns.”

In early April, Caron will set up a table at the Stockdale Center during lunch and dinner hours to collect and explain the census forms.

“I’ll also be posting on the message boards and other things to get the word out,” she said.

Although the law is black and white, there are still proponents for counting college students as residents of their hometowns, not their campuses. MC political economy and commerce professor Ken McMillan, who was a Republican state senator in Illinois for six years, is one of them.

“In my opinion, students should be part of the census where their permanent home is – where they would go if they had to leave campus to recover from an injury or illness,” he said.

McMillan also addressed a census-related issue that is tied to politics.

“The census determines political representation,” he said. “The number of people in a state compared with the number of people in other states determines the way that the 435 seats in Congress get divided up. That is very, very important, because the integrity of the political process depends on the fairness and accuracy of representation.”

Following the 2000 census, Illinois lost a House seat, falling to 19 representatives. McMillan thinks that 18 could soon be the state’s new number.

“I think we’ll lose one,” he predicted, citing Nevada, Idaho or New Mexico as states that might gain the seat Illinois loses.

McMillan would like to see Illinois adopt Iowa’s method of redistricting.

“A computer draws the maps, and it doesn’t care whether two incumbents are brought together,” said McMillan. “I don’t know if we’ll see Illinois adopt that any time soon, though.”

McMillan echoed comments that the census is also important because of the “huge amount” of federal money that comes to areas like Monmouth and Warren County, either directly or through the state.

“It goes on a per capita basis,” he said, “which means it’s important to get an accurate count on the population.”

One area that relies slightly less on accurate census data is school aid.

“Much of that is based on enrollment, as opposed to population,” he said. “However, some school aid is based on poverty levels, and that goes back to income per capita, which is derived from census data.”

In addition to re-districting, McMillan says there are other changes in the census system that might be worth considering.

“In New Zealand, they do their census on one night,” he said. “Everything shuts down, and people are encouraged to stay where they are. They recruit an army of people for just one day. Now, New Zealand’s population is only about the same size as Colorado’s, but I think they’ve shown their census to be as accurate as doing it over a longer period of time.”

Regarding the census, McMillan concluded, “It’s really important when you get right down to it. I’m as concerned about personal privacy as anyone but, to me, it’s not an invasion of privacy to ask who you are and where you live.”