Updated April 1, 2020 at 10:20 a.m. to include information from Elon University's group quarters administrator. On-campus students will still be counted in the census by the university despite in-person classes being canceled for the remainder of the spring semester.

The U.S. Census Bureau will continue to count Elon University students as residents of the town of Elon despite in-person classes being suspended until April 20.

Director Steven Dillingham said in a press release on March 18 that the bureau’s field operations will be suspended for two weeks until Census Day on April 1. As of March 28, the field operations suspension has been extended until April 15.

According to the bureau, as of March 20, the in-person interviews for the bureau's ongoing surveys have been "temporarily suspended," as a precaution against the coronavirus also known as COVID-19.


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A complete count of everyone in the town of Elon, including students, will determine the allocation of funds. Nationally, the census data will dictate the distribution of $675 billion. Of that money, North Carolina typically gets $16 billion in funding which goes to counties like Alamance and towns like Elon to improve roads and services like health care and emergency response.

Richard Roedner, Elon’s town manager, stressed the importance of getting a complete count for the 2020 census.

“It behooves the state to try and be as accurate as possible and counting the number of people who live in the state of North Carolina and within the state,” Roedner said. “It’s imperative that the town count is as accurate as possible because funding decisions largely come from population.”

Roedner said he wants students to be counted as town residents so that more funds are allocated to the community. 

“Even if you happen to be home for those two weeks, don’t count yourself there; count yourself here because by rights, this is where you’re a resident and selfishly, it benefits us,” Roedner said. “The law is clear that this is where they’re residents. This is where they should be counted.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, people are counted in the location that they are “living and sleeping most of the time” as of April 1. For college students, that location is their university, but even with the in-person class suspension at Elon, students are still counted as residents of the town.

On-campus housing is considered a “group quarter,” meaning that individuals staying in those facilities are counted by an administrator. Eleanor Finger, vice president for student life and member of the Elon Counts Committee for the 2020 Census, is Elon University's group quarter administrator.

Finger said that it is important for the university to get a complete count of those who live on and off-campus because they benefit from the services that funding would go towards.

"The university wants all students, faculty and staff to be counted because the number of counts per state dictate how much funding North Carolina will receive toward education, healthcare, emergency services, roads and transportation, public works, as well as other vital programs, all of which our students, faculty and staff use regularly," Finger wrote in an email.

In response to the coronavirus, the U.S. Census Bureau said group quarter administrators at universities can still respond to the census through Electronic Response Data Transfer (eResponse) or a paper listing using directory information. Even if universities are temporarily closed and students aren’t physically on campus, the bureau says they should still be counted in the census at their university.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 47% of colleges and universities have chosen the eResponse method, 7% are doing a paper listing and 35% are having students fill out an Individual Census Questionnaire. 

Students living off-campus have to fill out the census online, by phone or by mail on their own behalf. While those students can fill out the census online, they have to provide their census ID — sent to them in the mail between March 12-20 — or provide their on-campus address.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of March 15 over 5 million people nationally have responded to the census online. The census can also be filled out by phone or by mail, but it is “strongly encouraged” to fill it out online. 

The bureau expects the data collection to be completed by July 31.

Kyra O’Connor contributed to the reporting of this story.