How State College, PA leveraged data to support its student and greater community
The Challenge: Rent Relief
Like many college towns in the United States, the Borough of State College, PA needed to quickly respond to dynamic challenges in the face of COVID-19. Home to Pennsylvania State University, 65% of State College’s 42,000 residents are students. As student residents were instructed by the university to return to their family homes until the campus reopens, many students and parents inquired about Rent Relief assistance. State College Borough administrators wanted to quantify the extent of the concern and obtain a deeper understanding of their residents’ discourse surrounding the situation.
The Zencity Solution
Given the specificness and the urgency– understanding conversations around rent relief during the burgeoning economic crisis brought on by COVID-19– Borough administrators turned to Zencity to isolate public discourse on this issue. By leveraging Zencity’s customized insights to quantify and analyze resident discussions, State College administrators were able to easily identify the breakdown of residents’ top concerns on this issue. In addition to identifying student residents’ primary concern of rent relief assistance, Borough administrators also observed that this “rent challenge” was also deeply impacting land developers and landlords alike. These residents were also taking to the internet to share their own struggles such as property upkeep, land tax, and mortgage repayments.
Upon quantifying the challenge at hand, Borough management actively shared the data narrative with fellow university-centered cities, ICMA, ITGA, and the NLC in a remote meeting focused on the plight of college towns. Their goal of sharing this impactful data on public discourse is to aid administrations in better understanding the economic impact of COVID-19 on college towns and support a call to action.
In better understanding the impact of the university closure, State College borough management was able to clearly identify resident pain points (both students and full-time residents alike), as well as policies to prioritize in moving forward with rent relief assistance. At the same time, similar university-centered cities and college towns were able to apply this breakdown and question the effects in their own communities as a result of State College’s insights.
The Challenge: Resident Communication
State College Borough administrators understood the need to deliver a clear coherent message regarding COVID-19 measures including ‘social distancing’ to all corners of their constituency. To help achieve this objective, the Mayor of State College broadcasts a weekly message on Cable TV in an attempt to reach all communities (particularly those who are less digitally inclined) regarding the updated borough COVID-19 measures. However, it appeared as though residents were not adhering to the instructions of the Borough.
The Zencity Solution
State College deployed a Zencity survey specifically designed to identify the reasons why residents in the borough may not be adhering to the instructions. Two clear challenges were identified:
1. Many residents were not aware of where to find the latest information – even though the Borough had already published it on its own channels.
2. Elderly residents were misinformed, and not seeing the public announcements on Cable TV
Upon receiving the survey results, the Borough administration assembled an internal committee to brainstorm potential outreach methods in continuing their efforts for reaching non-digital users. A postcard was sent to all Borough residents with information about who to contact for assistance and where to locate COVID-19 updates. The organization also began hosting a regular meeting with neighborhood leaders throughout the municipality. Finally, Borough staff is now featured weekly during a segment on COVID-19 and the community on a celestial radio station.
The Borough is also currently working with local broadcasting stations that can stream all of the Borough’s council meetings. In addition, the Borough can now record the Mayor’s message at the end of each week and will try to have the weekly updates broadcasted on the local station on repeat to reach different communities.