CCE Works with Campus Partners to Prepare for 2020 Census

Reducing undercount key to securing resources for local community.

April 1, 2020 is Census Day. The United States Constitution mandates a count of the country’s population every 10 years, and 2020 will be the 24th time the U.S. will be conducting such a count. The data provided by the census determines the distribution of certain federal funds, as well as congressional and state legislative districts.

Illinois, among several other states, is at risk of an undercount of its population. Communities of color and immigrant communities are historically undercounted. In 2020, limited funding and concern over a citizenship question will likely depress response rates. This year’s switch to administering many census forms online will also make it harder to count those without access to or comfort with computers. According to the Chicago Urban League, an undercount could result in the loss of one or more Congressional seats as well as reduced funding for essential federal programs – “over a 10-year period, a 1% undercount would conservatively amount to a $1.2B cut in Medicaid Funding alone.”

The Center for Civic Engagement is taking an active role in making sure there is a fair and accurate count in Illinois by working with partners across the Chicagoland community. Some of the Center’s past and current efforts include:

  • “Census 2020: Higher Education’s Role in Ensuring a Fair & Accurate Count,” a Spring 2019 Conference hosted by the Center as a part of the Higher Education Civic Engagement Collaborative, and cosponsored by Illinois Campus Contact. Representatives from campuses across the Chicago area came together for a conversation on the critical role that colleges and universities can play in ensuring a fair and complete count in the 2020 Census. Participants discussed the importance of working with students, staff, faculty, administrators, and community partners, colleges and universities to support their communities in maintaining important resources.
  • SESP Professor Dan Lewis will be teaching a course called “Saving the Census” (SESP 351). This course is designed for undergraduates seeking to address those challenges to support the 2020 Census. They will strategize around how to make sure everyone counts at Northwestern and in the surrounding communities. The primary focus will be around Northwestern students living on and off campus, but they will also assist in communities where the likelihood of an undercount is strong. Together, the class will strategize and take action to ensure that everybody counts.
  • The Northwestern University Library will be displaying exhibits and activities as the census approaches, to invite students and other community members to better understand the census and its purpose.

The Census is an important part of how the United States’ democracy works. College students can play a critical role in helping make the census accessible to more people, and ensuring communities are accurately represented and get the resources they need for years to come. To learn more about getting involved, contact the Center at