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HSIs, Others Look to Census for Aid to Schools, Communities

For minority-serving colleges and their communities, the $787 billion economic stimulus package is not the only new funding game in town. Many also are focusing on the 2010 U.S. Census, with an eye toward ensuring accurate population counts so their communities can claim a fair share of education and other funds.

“Most of our colleges and universities are in communities with a high concentration of low-income residents,” says Dr. Antonio Flores, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) president. “If they benefit from the census, Hispanic-serving institutions benefit, too.”

The federal government conducts the census every 10 years to count everyone in the United States. But there are concerns that many low-income Americans and immigrants — both documented and undocumented — go uncounted.

“Last time in 2000, the census missed 3 million Americans and 1.4 million homes. Most of those who were missed were poor, and many were minorities,” says Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., a Congressional Black Caucus member and chairman of the House information and census subcommittee. “That is just not good enough.”

In addition to tabulating national and local populations, the census will affect virtually all aspects of government. From education to health care and community services, the population count will help determine how to spend about $300 billion in federal funding.

“For every person the bureau misses, their local community will lose thousands of dollars,” Clay says.

“For 10 years, and given the economic emergency we all face, no city or state can afford to miss anyone.” For its part, HACU is a “national partner” for the 2010 census. Flores says some critical requirements for an effective census include:

• Bilingual staff in “all aspects of the census process,” to help not only Hispanics but those who speak other languages;

• Formal links between the government and community groups to encourage U.S. residents to be counted; and

• The use of Hispanic and other minority demographers some from minority-serving colleges — who can help provide research- based solutions to undercounting.

“HACU is partnering with the Census Bureau any way we can,” Flores tells Diverse. One additional option may be to use students from HSIs or other minority-serving institutions as counters and liaisons. These students “have language skills as well as knowledge of these communities,” he adds.

The Census Bureau already works with minority-serving institutions in several ways. In addition to HACU’s role in the 2010 census, Spelman College in Atlanta is an official Census Information Center. Spelman is one of 52 national, regional and local nonprofits that represent the needs of underserved communities before the Census Bureau.

Among other goals, the Spelman center disseminates census information and promotes university-community involvement on census issues.

By all indications, such links will prove important in 2010.

One issue prominent in the Hispanic community is how to educate immigrants, documented and undocumented, about their participation in the census process. Many already have a fear of government agencies and officials. As a result, Clay and other lawmakers have urged the federal government to cut back on major immigration raids during the census information collection process.

HACU’s Flores says outreach to the immigration community is critical. “It’s necessary to count everyone,” he says, including the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants.

“The census is a count of everyone here in this country. It has nothing to do with citizenship or immigration. It’s simply a count of who is here and where they are,” he adds. Census forms ask no questions about citizenship status, he says. Still, “many are fearful of being counted.”

Aside from bilingual staff, Flores says the government should partner with religious or community groups to emphasize the importance of the census. These community members could serve as informal partners or even in the temporary federal work force responsible for administering census forms.

 “Immigrants feel most comfortable with churches or community groups,” Flores says.

Within the Census Bureau, it also is important to have leaders, researchers and demographers sensitive to minority communities, he adds. On everything from the phrasing of a question to survey instruments, it is important to have diverse viewpoints.

In some cases, community groups already are committing money to the census cause. In the Chicago area, 10 foundations have pledged funds to help increase participation by minority, lowincome, high-rise and rural communities. For every person not counted, Illinois will lose about $12,000, says the Joyce Foundation, one of the participants. Says Joyce president Ellen Alberding: “The census truly has the potential to advance or delay progress.”

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