Report

The Census: College Students Count—but Where?

  • March 16, 2010

Where should college students be counted in the 2010 Census—at their parents' home or their school address? The Census Bureau has a cut-and-dried answer, but this question recurs each decade because census rules and people's preferences are not always in sync.

The 2010 Census operates on the idea that people should be counted at their usual address. According to census rules (PDF), people should be counted ("enumerated," in census-speak) at a residence if they:

  • Live or stay at the residence most of the time.
  • Stayed there on April 1, 2010 and had no permanent place to live.
  • Stay at the residence more time than any other place they might live or stay.

That means most college students should be counted at their college address, either on campus or off campus. They should be counted at their parents' home only if they live and sleep there most of the year.

This is puzzling to many people. Even Census Bureau Director Robert Groves wrote on his blog that his two college-student sons were not sure whether they should fill out forms at their school addresses or at their parents' house. Census research has found that some students are counted twice, once in each place.

To deal with this problem, the Census Bureau added a new question to the 2010 Census form: "Does Person 1 sometimes live or stay somewhere else?" For those who answer "yes," the options include "in college housing." Census officials hope that the answers to this question will help them determine the correct address for everyone who is counted and avoid counting college students more than once.

Read the full commentary The Census: College Students Count—but Where? on the Pew Research Center's Web site.