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Campus & Community

Countdown to the Count

Efforts Begin to Increase Census Accuracy at UMD, College Park

By Liam Farrell

Census illustration

Illustration by iStock

Illustration by iStock

The next U.S. census won’t be taken for another two years, but the University of Maryland is already starting work on how to get students, immigrants and other populations better counted in the key survey.

As part of UMD’s Year of Immigration, the Office of Community Engagement, Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and College Park Scholars are holding a workshop tomorrow on the 2020 census with the U.S. Census Bureau, community stakeholders, elected officials and the United Way of the National Capital Area. Called “Be Seen, Be Counted in 2020,” it will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in Adele’s Room of the Stamp Student Union.

“We have to engage the students, we have to engage the community,” said Gloria Aparicio Blackwell, director of the Office of Community Engagement. “This aspect of civic engagement is critical.”

Held every 10 years, the U.S. census aims to count every person living in the country, and its tallies are used to determine everything from the distribution of congressional seats to funding for roads, schools, health programs and more. But some populations are historically undercounted, including college students, foreign-born residents and households below the poverty line.

And according to the “Census 2020 Hard to Count” map developed by the City University of New York, the College Park area had dismal rates a decade ago. Only 49 percent of the tract including UMD’s campus mailed back census questionnaires in 2010, with portions of neighboring Langley Park similarly lagging.

So tomorrow, the meeting will use a “design thinking process” to figure out how to increase responses, whether that involves talking to people one-on-one at day cares or doing widespread marketing programs.

“It’s about connecting with people and empathizing with them,” said Mira Azarm, a design thinking facilitator for the Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “Who are the people we are trying to serve, and how are they challenged?”

The impact of some challenges, however, are still to be determined. In addition to a new emphasis on filling out the census questionnaire online, which could hinder the less technologically savvy, there are ongoing court battles over government plans to include a question about citizenship, sparking concerns that immigrants will be frightened away from participating in the census.

“We have to sell the idea this is important,” Aparicio Blackwell said. “We cannot ignore that aspect of fear.”

To find out more information about the event and RSVP, visit

Schools & Departments:

Office of Community Engagement

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