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Upcoming census will determine Oxford’s financial situation for next decade

Students at Miami University will count toward the population of Oxford — not their hometowns — in the upcoming census. They will receive forms in the mail with instructions on filling out the census online beginning on March 12.

The census, which occurs every 10 years, records demographic information for every community in the United States.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “College students should be counted where they live and sleep most of the time as of April 1, 2020.” For most students at Miami, both on and off-campus, this means they should be counted in Oxford.

Mike Smith, mayor of Oxford, said that having the students count toward the city’s population is beneficial because federal funding for things such as roads, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicare services is allocated based on population.

Smith said these benefits outweigh the potential drawbacks to counting students in the population — such as an artificially increased unemployment rate.

“We want an accurate [population] count, and Oxford has to provide services to students most of the year, so it’s fair that they’re counted,” Smith said.

The Andrew Goodman Foundation — a nonprofit organization that seeks to increase civic engagement among young people — has developed an initiative called RedHawks Count that will automatically count all on-campus students toward Oxford’s population, so they don’t have to actually fill out the census.

To achieve this, the university will provide the Census Bureau with both individual data, such as students’ names and birthdays, and aggregate data, such as university-wide statistics on race and gender.

Reena Murphy, a campus ambassador for the Goodman Foundation, said that this two-pronged approach is necessary because Miami is not allowed to release individual students’ demographic information due to federal privacy laws, so this information must be provided in the aggregate.

Smith said that counting off-campus students will likely be more challenging since these students must fill out the census on their own.

“If you live in a house [off-campus] and have, say, seven roommates, one person will get the census form, and it’s up to that person to make sure that they include the other seven roommates,” Smith said.

Smith said if off-campus students fail to fill out the census by April 1, the Census Bureau will send locally-based workers to their houses. There’s a chance that school will already be out by the time workers begin making house visits, and Smith said he didn’t know what the city would do in that scenario.

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To avoid this scenario, Murphy said that the Goodman Foundation plans to “bombard” students with information on the census. They’ve developed a presentation about their RedHawks Count initiative that classes and organizations can request, they’re currently seeking volunteers for a walkabout on March 30 during which groups will visit off-campus residences and encourage students to participate in the census, and they’ll be tabling during the primary election on March 17.

Andrew Devedjian, another Goodman Foundation campus ambassador, said that filling out the census now is critically important to future Miami students and Oxford residents.

“[This year’s census] informs the next 10 years in Oxford,” Devedjian said. “If 20,000 people were not counted in Oxford, that’s 20,000 people that would not go into our roads, federal student loans, research grants — and the list goes on.”