Coronavirus outbreak upsets UW-Madison census plans

Published: Mar. 16, 2020 at 9:38 PM CDT
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As the coronavirus outbreak spread,

and sent students home, but that's making it a lot harder for students to be counted in the 2020 Census.

No matter where students are from, they should be counted at their Madison addresses, not their family's home. That could include most, even all, of the university's more than 45,000 students.

The first wave of invitations to fill out the census is being sent out in mid-March, but a lot of UW-Madison students have left the city.

For nearly 8,000 students living in residence halls, they will not even get an invitation. Dorms are considered "group housing" by the census, so these students are counted differently.

UW-Madison and the city worked together to come up with a plan to count university students.

In early April, students in dorms would all get forms to fill out in their residence hall mailboxes. Those forms would then be returned to the university.

Now students will not be back on campus until April 10, and even that could change.

"The challenge is there. We really don't have any more information about next steps," said Brenda Gonzalez, UW-Madison's Director of Community Relations. Gonzalez is spearheading the university's census efforts.

If students are not counted, the entire city could face the consequences.

"The Madison area loses out on funding that certainly supports our students," said Brian Grady, a city of Madison planner working with UW-Madison on the census.

Census results determine how about $675 billion in federal funding gets distributed. That money could go toward public transit, affordable housing, child care and more.

for a list of all the programs in the state funded by federal dollers.

The university is working to get the message out to students and their families.

"UW-Madison was able to provide a lot of information to our students before they left," Gonzalez said.

However, one international student said he is still unclear.

"We're checking the emails these days, and it's all about the virus, not about the census or anything. About closing buildings and stuff," said Muhannad Alhasani, a UW-Madison undergrad from Saudi Arabia.

Alhasani said he did not know that international students are supposed to be counted in the census.

Gonzalez said the university will give students step-by-step instructions on what to do, especially if online learning is extended further into the semester. She said she had one message for students.

"You are part of the Madison community so you should be counted as part of the city of Madison," Gonzalez explained.

Right now, the university is hoping students can return April 10 and be counted then. However, they are preparing for the worst as other universities have cancelled face-to-face classes for the whole semester.

Gonzalez and Grady both said they will be working on brainstorming other ways to get students' information if that happens. Grady emphasized that it is important to get students counted before the summer months.

"If students aren't counted really in the next few months...they're not going to be counted at all," Grady said.

The deadline for the 2020 Census is July 31.