Mara Sylvester does not consider herself a resident of Stillwater despite attending Oklahoma State University for three years.
Sylvester’s permanent address is still her parents’ address, and she is registered to vote in Okmulgee county. This is why she doesn’t consider herself a resident of Stillwater, even though she has spent 25 of the past 34 months on campus.
Sylvester has lived in a dorm her three years at OSU, she said that’s what’s stopping her from considering herself a citizen of Stillwater.
“I think if I had an apartment I would be more apt to call myself a citizen because there would be housing I’m definitely paying for,” Sylvester said.
Sylvester said she will not fill out the census.
Students like Sylvester are the students the City of Stillwater is trying to reach for the 2020 census.
Stillwater was 4,312 people short of reaching the 50,000-person mark in 2010. This means Stillwater missed out on $6 million to $7.2 million worth of state and federal funding.
Mayor Will Joyce said the city loses about $1,500-$1,800 in federal and state funding for every person not counted in the census.
“In the City of Stillwater, if your house catches on fire, the Stillwater fire department is going to respond,” Joyce said. “If you have a legal problem or a crime problem, Stillwater police are going to respond. You’re getting to the store on the streets the City of Stillwater paves, and when you buy your groceries, you’re paying sales tax that the City of Stillwater sets. So, it’s important for you to be counted as one of the people those services are here for.”
Joyce and Stillwater have been preparing for the census for over a year now, trying to get the word out to Stillwater residents and OSU students. Stillwater created a Complete Count Committee made up of representatives from different agencies in Payne County, including OSU, to make sure it was reaching everyone possible.
“That (2010) number was soft, and it has been soft every census,” Joyce said. “This (2020 number) number will be soft. I think it is always an uphill battle for us to get a complete and accurate count, especially of students here in Stillwater. I think we always have an expectation that we are probably not going to reach everybody, but I think that (2010) number was significantly low.”
Students are often confused as to what the census is counting. Questions most often received include, “What if my parents live somewhere else? What if I live out-of-state? What if I am still a dependent on my parent’s taxes?”
None of those issues affect census reporting. Reporting your address in Stillwater does not affect your tuition, your taxes or your parents’ taxes. The census is tracking your usual residence.
Census.gov defines “usual residence” as “the place where a person lives and sleeps most of the time. This place is not necessarily the same as the person's voting residence or legal residence.” For OSU students who spend nine months of the year in Stillwater, that would count as a usual residence.
“The census count is about where people reside,” Joyce said. “It’s not a citizenship test. It’s not about where you’re from or where your parents live. It’s about where people reside on a day to day basis at the time of the census.”