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Cornell’s Upstate-Downstate Divide

Any Cornell student or alum will be more than familiar with the notion that the land-grant institution for New York State actually comprises the student population from two different states – Downstate... and Upstate New York.

And you don’t have to go very far to run into some stereotypes about the two states. Upstaters will tell you that the Downstaters are all vain, impolite Long Islanders who bemoan the fact that they were rejected at Harvard. And Downstaters will tell you that Upstaters are a bunch of hick farm boys and girls who have no sense of culture and need to shower more than once a week.

I might be exaggerating a bit, but you get the point. From either perspective, you can often find yourself asking, “Where do these people come from?”

With that question in mind, publicly available data from Cornell allows us to discern just where in New York State Cornell’s student body comes from. And the answer shouldn’t be surprising: Long Island and the Hudson Valley are over-represented relative to most other areas in New York State. The major Upstate cities all send about the same percentage of students to Cornell, save for Buffalo which is curiously under-represented. And while New York City (and the urban poor it represents) is grossly under-represented, Ithaca and Cortland are vastly over-represented, thanks to the number of faculty brats and townie scholarships.

Using Census data, the table below details the number of Cornell students from each geographic area relative to the number of individuals of high school age (e.g. 14-17) in their area. So, for instance, for every 1,000 high school students in the Ithaca-Cortland area, 48 end up enrolling at Cornell. On the opposite end of the spectrum, for every 1,000 high school students in the Buffalo-Niagara metro, only 2.7 students end up at Cornell.

On average, for every 1,000 high school students in New York State, Cornell enrolls 4.4 of them.

So we can also see the share of total Cornell students from a certain location in New York. And while certain Collegetown bars may suggest that 50 percent of all Cornell students are from Long Island the reality is that it is closer to…

[The answer, another table and more analysis after the jump.]

Seven percent! In fact, Long Island isn’t even the most over-represented geography at Cornell – that would be the downstate Hudson Valley counties comprising Westchester, Rockland, Dutchess, Putnam, and Orange.

It is also interesting to see which geographic areas are sending the highest percentage of students to the endowed colleges. Not surprisingly, New York City, with its wealthy Manhattan population, sends the highest ratio of students to the endowed colleges. Ithaca, with significant tuition breaks for children of faculty and staff, isn’t very far behind either. And Buffalo, curiously, despite being under-represented in general, sends a higher percentage of students to the endowed colleges than any of its upstate peers (excluding Ithaca of course).

So what can this tell us about Cornell’s admission policies? Nothing really. It should be of no surprise that the wealthier, more-educated downstate areas send a higher percentage of students to East Hill than the rest of the state. But Upstate is also sufficiently represented – perhaps over-represented relative to its educational and income demographics. The only outlier appears to be my own home region of Buffalo, but without knowing anything about the number of who students who apply/get accepted/enroll, it is impossible to tell whether this outcome stems from the students in the area or from the University’s admissions decisions.

Anecdotally, I would add that Cornell appears to be under-appreciated in the Buffalo area. In my affluent, suburban high-school, Cornell tended to be overlooked relative to schools like Bucknell, Colgate, Hamilton, Georgetown, and Northwestern, and I could never figure out why.

Food for thought.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on October 06, 2008 (#)

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