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Student Participation in 2010 Census Vital to Minnesota Interests

March 17, 2010 By Robert Woo, Undergraduate Research Fellow

This month, the United States of America kicks off the 2010 Census by sending each of her residents a survey consisting of 10 questions. The Census is a crucial event for the whole nation, as it not only determines how many seats each state has in the House of Representatives for the next 10 years, but it also determines how the $400 billion dollars of annual federal funding is spent in areas such as infrastructure, hospitals, job training centers, schools, senior centers, and emergency services. Clearly, it is in every state's interests to count its population as completely as possible.

The 2010 Census is especially crucial for Minnesota. According to the latest projection conducted by State Demographer Tom Gillaspy, Minnesota could lose its eighth seat to Missouri by only 1,100 people. Even if Minnesota keeps that seat in the end, the state still faces huge pressure from Texas and California. Both of those states only need to count 2,200 more than the projected number to enlarge their already dominant presence in the Congress (32 and 53 representatives, respectively), which is entirely possible in such a large-scale statistical operation.

Minnesota's population growth during the past decade, however, can only be described as modest. In the 2000 Census, our population was 4,919,479, while the 2009 population is estimated to be 5,266,214 by the Census Bureau, representing a mere seven percent increase and falling short of the  8.5 percent growth in the entire U.S. population over the same period of time.

However, population growth is never monolithic because different population groups grow at different rates. For instance, one group has enjoyed a particularly sharp growth rate during the past decade: the college students. According to Minnesota's Office of Higher Education, total enrollment in all the private, state and professional schools in Minnesota in the Fall of 1990 was 280,143, but in Fall 2009, student population ballooned by almost 33% to 327,108. That's almost five times the rate of increase in the state population.

According to the Census Bureau, college students who live away from parents while attending college should be counted in either their dorms or their off-campus houses. Therefore, it is a student's obligation as a U.S. citizen to take part in the Census.

Singling out the student population is strategically important because of the fast growth and emerging significance of the
MN student population graph.JPG
entire population, not to mention the fact that  students are unlikely to spend time filling out the Census form. Students tend to be busy with academics, athletics and all forms of social life, and they may not be engaged in public affairs.
All of Minnesota's college students must be aware of the impact they can have on the state's future, but out-of-state students deserve special attention, as their numbers have increased faster than the overall student population. From 1999 to 2008, approximately 65,000 more students came from other states to pursue higher education in Minnesota, representing a 150 percent increase. Many out-of-state students don't see Minnesota as "home" and may not understand the importance of filling out the Census form.

So why should someone take the Census for another state? Since these students go to college in Minnesota, their interests are directly tied to whether Minnesota's education system is well-funded or not. Moreover, many out-of-state students choose to find a job in Minnesota after graduation, and the environment of the job market partly depends on whether the national policy is conducive to job creation. Not to mention infrastructure improvements such as better transportation and better  health care if Minnesota has a bigger presence in Congress.

This lack of student participation in the Census is likely a phenomenon around the country.   If one state has a particularly engaged student body, it will instantly gain an edge over other states.

If Minnesota loses one single seat in Congress, it will cost the state tens of millions of dollars in funding in critical areas such as education and economic development. But, if Minnesota students get involved and make an effort to fill out those Census forms, Minnesota might be able to avert this loss.

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