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Research Articles

Vol. 28 No. 1

Counting on Higher Education: Teaching and Assessing Knowledge and Participation in the 2020 Census

  • Carah Ong Whaley
  • Dena Pastor
  • Abraham Goldberg
June 25, 2022


Mandated under Article 1, Section 2 of the United States Constitution, the decennial census determines the distribution of power and resources based upon population counts. College students are a hard-to-count population with limited knowledge about why the census matters and how to complete it. Politics and the global health pandemic made the 2020 Census exceptionally challenging. A university’s center for civic engagement and students in a political science class collaborated with local, state, and national partners to develop and implement a campuswide 2020 Census Education and Engagement Program. Assessments of 2020 Census knowledge were administered to almost 2,000 students on a required university-wide Assessment Day. Subsequent data collection indicated knowledge about the 2020 Census is malleable, as evidenced by sizable gains over time as well as a positive relationship between census completion and participation in the 2020 Census Education and Engagement Program.