March 24, 2020

Massachusetts Delegation Asks Census Bureau to Allow Colleges and Universities to Report on All Students Using Administrative Data

Campus closures due to the coronavirus pandemic may create significant barriers to counting Massachusetts students, leading to a major undercount for Massachusetts in the 2020 Census

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC -- United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) led the Massachusetts congressional delegation, including Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Representatives Richard E. Neal (D-MA-01), James P. McGovern (D-MA-02), Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA-08), William Keating (D-MA-09), Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-MA-04), Katherine Clark (D-MA-05), Seth Moulton (D-MA-06), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-07) and Lori Trahan (D-MA-03), in a letter to the U.S. Census Bureau asking them, in the wake of campus closures, to allow colleges and universities to report on all their students using administrative data. The lawmakers urge the Census Bureau to grant Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin's request to work with colleges and universities to determine accurate counts using administrative data for all the colleges' and universities' registered students, including students living off campus. 

The rapid spread of the novel coronavirus and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendations for social distancing have led at least 24 colleges and universities in Massachusetts to move their classes online and instruct most students to leave campus. This includes the largest universities in the state, including Harvard University, Boston University, Northeastern University, and the University of Massachusetts system. As a result, Massachusetts's university students are currently dispersed all over the United States and the world. According to Census Bureau guidance, students should be counted where they would normally reside as of April 1, 2020, even if they are temporarily in a different location due to campus closures.

"We are deeply concerned that in the current circumstances, continuing to count students residing in institutions by collecting individual student surveys will result in a drastic undercount for Massachusetts," wrote the Massachusetts lawmakers. "Because Massachusetts has a high concentration of colleges and universities, under-counting this group would result in the loss of essential funding and services that students rely on while they are living in the Commonwealth."

Earlier this month, Secretary Galvin made a similar request, noting that colleges' and universities' administrative records could provide the Census Bureau with accurate information about all students. The Census Bureau currently uses administrative records for students living on campus only.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, Senator Warren has pressed the Trump Administration to respond effectively to deliver the robust set of resources needed to address this emergency in Massachusetts and nationwide, including a faster expansion in diagnostic testing, medical supplies and care capacity, and support for state and local governments to be able to help people quickly. A week ago, she put out a plan to respond to the economic hardships brought on by the coronavirus crisis -- proposing at least $750 billion in stimulus money to save our economy and help families. Building on the proposals she laid out, she worked to ensure student loan debt cancellation and a critical increase in Social Security and disability benefits are a core part of the stimulus package Democrats negotiate. Senator Warren was also the first to lay out a detailed list of conditions tied to any taxpayer-funded bailouts, such as requiring companies to keep workers on payroll, implement a $15 minimum wage, permanently ban stock buybacks, prohibit CEO bonuses, and more. Her efforts are focused on ensuring stimulus money reaches the people who need it most in this crisis -- workers and families -- and bringing much-needed structural change to our economy.