Whether they are from Blount County or not, students at Maryville College have the opportunity to be counted in the 2020 Census. That may not mean much to students, but it could mean around $1 million for its namesake city.

With a total of 1,148 reported as enrolled in September 2019, the 200-year-old college is no small player in the national game of counting every person — and, by proxy, every federal dollar that will end up in the hands of local government.

But experts on how the census will be conducted in Tennessee assert the problem with college students is catching them before they escape for the summer.

“It’s important to remember that people in all cases are counted where they usually live on census day,” Tim Kuhn, director of the Tennessee State Data Center at the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research, told The Daily Times in a phone interview.

Kuhn is just one of 38 state government and community leaders working alongside the U.S. Census Bureau to encourage community investment in the process.

He pointed out that, with larger college campuses like University of Tennessee Knoxville, the counting process struggles to keep up with the busy lives of graduates and undergraduates who live in off-campus housing.

“They are the ones that are subject to being more mobile around that time,” Kuhn said. “It’s harder to catch them before they leave campus at the end of the school year: In many cases they may move, they may return to a parent or guardian’s home ... they may go live someplace else.”

Even if Maryville College does not have off-campus student housing, students are tricky to count for other reasons.

“Research shows that people under age 25 and those living in rental housing are the least likely to respond to the census,” an October article from the Boyd Center explained. “Most college students fall into these groups.”

‘Counted where you reside’

So how much does the city of Maryville stand to gain or lose from the college’s population?

That depends on how many students call the campus and the city home.

Census data from 2010 shows that the population of students in college housing totaled nearly 750. That’s when the school’s enrollment was at 1,080, according to reporting from The Daily Times in 2010.

Since then, the school has opened more housing in Pearson Hall, but available living space on campus has not increased significantly in the past 10 years.

Enrollment data released by the school in September 2019 shows the current student body hails from 19 states and six foreign countries, though 72% is from Tennessee.

MC Communications Director Karen Eldridge said the population of students who live on campus is greater than that of commuters. In fact, it has not changed since the former census and still sits at around 750 students, she said.

All told, since Census Bureau data and other independent studies show that over a 10-year period the value of a single person counted in the census may amount to upwards of $1,000, the school’s current residential population could spell at least $750,000 in revenue for the city — gain or lose.

That’s why entities and individuals like Kuhn, the Boyd Center and the Census Bureau’s communications arm are pushing the importance of securing data on student populations.

“The main thing to emphasize to a college student is that you are counted where you normally reside on April 1,” Kuhn said. He also confirmed any program that presses the importance of the census on campus is a good one.

Representation and funding

Meanwhile, what can Maryville College students and administrators expect once April 1 rolls around?

Kuhn noted the process for colleges was not entirely set in stone for 2020, but he pointed to a 2010 letter from the U.S. Department of Education explaining how it was conducted last time around.

“The Bureau has indicated that census takers will visit colleges and universities on three occasions,” the letter reads, adding that the count also will ask for directory information regarding students who live in group housing.

Student information collected by colleges is protected by federal law, but compiled data makes the process smoother and may even be a more significant part of 2020 higher education counting practices.

“For a local community, this is important,” Kuhn said. “Throughout the year, students are using some of the resources the local community provides and it’s important for that community to have them counted — for representation and for funding.”

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