While COVID-19 and the November 2020 presidential election have dominated the media spotlight, there’s another major event taking place that’s of crucial importance to The University of Alabama, city of Tuscaloosa, the state and nation: the 2020 U.S. Census on April 1.
The last census was held a decade ago. Then, college students were one of the largest demographics in Tuscaloosa County that didn’t participate, with 28-37% of students not submitting census data, according to the Atlanta Regional Census Center.
College students represent about one-third of Tuscaloosa’s population. The future of the region is dependent on students taking seriously their civic responsibility to participate in the 2020 Census and making sure that they’re counted where they live on April 1, which is in Tuscaloosa and not where they’re from.
“Our University is fortunate to have a large population of out-of-state students and they should be counted where they live now, as per federal law,” said Dr. Stephen Katsinas, director of the Educational Policy Center at UA and a professor of higher education.
“So we have a tremendous role to play.”
Katsinas said if Alabama’s census counts aren’t high enough, the state could lose one or two of its seven House of Representatives congressional seats, and one of those seats is filled by a senior representative from Tuscaloosa who chairs the U.S. Committee on Appropriations.
In addition to the potential loss of political influence, a low census response rate in Alabama equates to a potential loss of billions in federal funding.
These are funds the state uses to improve roads, schools and health care, and to contribute to the quality of life of college students, faculty and staff.
“This is truly important for the city,” said Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox. “What’s sadder than anything is if we never reach our potential. … If we don’t cross that 100,000-person participation threshold within the city then we will be the best that never was.”
Jim Page, president of the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, said the decision of those who reside in Tuscaloosa to participate in the census in the next several weeks will determine what’s decided for the Tuscaloosa area for the next 10 years.
“Numbers matter,” Page said. “When we’re trying to reach restaurants and businesses to come here the first thing they look at is your city’s population.
“It would be really, really sad if we went backwards. It would hurt our recruitment. … We have one shot to get it right.”
With the hashtag #UAcounts, the University is getting the word out about the importance of the census in every way it can. University websites, emails, stories and social media containing census messaging will be released in the coming days.
And with the census now available online, it’s never been easier to complete it. The census can be completed on or before April 1.
For information about the University’s 2020 Census plan and how to complete the 2020 Census, go to census.ua.edu.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.