Census cause of campus confusion

By Jerry Reed
Staff Writer,
Abilene Reporter-News
April 1, 2000

A crop of confusion has been sown among some college and university students who want to do right by this year's census.

Students who've called the national census help line have been provided different answers, depending upon who happened to answer the phone, said McMurry University political science professor Tina Bertrand.

Some students were told to ignore the census forms they got in the mail and wait to be counted in a group on-campus gathering. Others were told to fill out the form and tell the officials conducting the group count that they'd already responded to the census.

Actually, the mere fact students received mailed forms indicate they live off campus. Rather than mailing census forms to on-campus residents, the Census Bureau prefers to conduct group censuses by residence hall.

University students generally fit into three census categories:

  • If students live with their parents, parents should include the student on their household census form.
  • If students live independently off campus, they should treat the census form just as they would if they were living at the same address but not attending college. That is, they should fill out the form and mail it back - or else expect a follow-up visit from an in-person enumerator.
  • If students live in campus housing, they should learn their university's program for on-campus census-gathering, then get with that program.

All census information is supposed to be reported as it exists on April 1. Thus, for example a baby born on April 2 should not be counted even though the parent might not fill out the form until April 5.

Bill Speegle, community partnership specialist for the Abilene regional census office, said on-campus residents may be surveyed by different methods at the option of university officials.

At McMurry and Hardin-Simmons universities, forms will be given to and collected from students. At Abilene Christian University, campus housing roster information will give census workers the information they need to fill out the students' forms.

Combined, the Abilene universities have more 3,000 students living on campus.

Counting students who live in campus housing is one of several "special populations'' programs of the census bureau. Others include counting prison inmates, long-term hospital patients, transients, and residents in other group settings such as nursing homes, and schools and hospitals for people with mental disabilities.

The easiest group census to take may be found behind prison walls.

The warden usually opts to provide roster information on all inmates in residence on Census Day. Only a few items of personal information are required of each prisoner, including name and date of birth. Gender is a given in a one-sex prison.

However census information for people in group settings is gathered, it's a valuable asset for local governments because so much state and federal funding is allocated based on overall population and sub-categories of that general population.

"We need all the population we can show,'' said Scurry County Judge Ricky Fritz, whose county landed the Daniel prison unit in 1989.

Abilene City Manager Roy McDaniel wants it known, however, that the institutional populations aren't totally maintenance-free. Abilene provides water, sewage and refuse services to the Robertson and Middleton prison units northeast of town after originally having provided the land, he noted.

And lately, he groused, he's heard reports of inmates wasting water at just the time the city's free population is asked to cut back on water use to ride out the drought.

Besides, he said, typically government grants are based on population brackets - say 100,000 to 150,000 - rather than precise population counts. So in these instances, the extra population doesn't help "unless you go into the next bracket," he said.

McDaniel does see thousands of university students as a low-maintenance asset to the community.

"They don't normally require much police, fire or social services,'' he explained.

Prisons built during the '90s have made the difference between gaining and losing population over the decade in three Big Country counties, according to July 1999 census estimates.

Of the four that landed prisons during the decade, only Brown County gained population without the prison count. And even it owes more than half its gains to the Havins Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facility that opened south of Brownwood in July 1994.

Jones, Stephens and Mitchell counties must credit their five prisons for their population gains, according to those estimates.

Abilene alone in the Big Country gained new prisons within city limits. Together, the Robertson and Middleton units should add about 4,500 to Abilene's official population tally in the 2000 census.

The Wallace and Ware units lie just across the road from the Colorado City limits, so their combined population of about 2,150 won't help hype Colorado City's official population figure.

Other area state prisons - the Daniel Unit near Snyder, the Sayle substance abuse unit near Breckenridge and the Havins facility near Brownwood - are a few miles outside of town.

Big Spring's Federal Prison Camp and Cornell Correctional Center lie within the city limits. But because they were in place before the '90s, these federal prisons were unable to provide a surge in numbers during the decade to help the city and Howard County stop slides in population counts.

Contact political writer Jerry Reed at 767-6769 or reedj@abinews.com.
Copyright ©2000, Abilene Reporter-News / Texnews / E.W. Scripps Publications


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