October 23, 2014

Rising Number of Graduates Choose to Stay in Ithaca

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By ZOE FERGUSON

The number of Cornell graduates who stay in Ithaca after graduation — either for further degrees or careers — has nearly doubled since 2007, according to the Economic Impact Report released by the Office of Budget and Planning earlier this month.

Thirty-eight percent of the Class of 2013 from the Ithaca campus remained in New York State, according to the report. Of these, 1,135 alumni — 17 percent — stayed in Tompkins County. This number represents almost twice as many as the members of the graduating class of 2007 who chose to stay in Ithaca.

In addition, 14 percent of international students stay in Ithaca post-graduation, The Sun previously reported.

According to the report, Cornell has acted as a buffer for Ithaca and Tompkins County against the national recession since 2008.

Joel Malina, vice president of university relations, said Cornell’s positive relationship with the Tompkins County economy is “instructive” for other universities across the country.

“I think it can instruct other states and other localities that an institute of higher education — a major research University — can be an element of a recovery or insulation from economic disruption,” Malina said. “I think it speaks to the ability of a large, vibrant institution such as Cornell to provide that insulation.”

Malina also emphasized the report’s implications of a productive relationship between the University and the local community, both in the social and economic spheres.

“The Cornell education will never be limited, going forward, to just a classroom setting,” Malina said. Instead, he said, there is an “important connection” with residents of Tompkins County and New York State in general.

Gary Stewart, director of community relations, said the report is an important resource to consult in sharing the story of the relationship between Ithaca and Cornell.

“I was thrilled we could do this project,” Stewart said. “It’s a good resource for not just Cornell, but for the community at  large. It helps frame what the realities are in a very pragmatic light.”

Stewart added that the report’s focus on quantifiable data makes it especially valuable.­­­

“We’re glad we have this now as a resource so that when people ask questions, we have something handy,” he said. “We can point to real data and get beyond sound bites.”

Young alumni are consistently more likely to stay local in the years following their graduation, according to the report. After that, they tend to leave the state until the number living in New York “levels off” to a steady rate.

Minakshi Amundsen, director of capital budget and integrated planning in Cornell’s Division of Budget and Planning, said lumni impact on the local area decreases with the age of the graduates.

“I think as the alumni graduate, they tend to have a greater presence in the county,” Amundsen said. “As they age gracefully, there is a smaller presence.”

According to the report, “the farther alumni are from their graduating year, the more likely they are to live outside New York State.”

The report said that the first 10 years after graduation are the most important to alumni for creating revenue for New York State.

“In that first decade after graduation,” the report said, “alumni become active consumers in the state’s economy as they establish their personal and professional lives. These young alumni also contribute to the economy in another important way — through their talents and knowledge — helping fuel innovation and entrepreneurship in New York State.”

Malina said he thinks a greater alumni presence is beneficial to the local community.

“I think it adds to the richness of the community to have people who aren’t just living here because it’s the town their parents chose for them,” Malina said. “This is, over the long term, part of what will ensure that Tompkins County remains this vibrant surprise in the middle of the state.”

Malina added that the increased numbers of Cornell alumni choosing to live local speak to a high quality of life in Ithaca.

“I think these numbers are a testament to what the entire county is able to provide in terms of quality of life,” he said. “This is going to become a part of the state which, because of the focus on higher education, will always be a fountain of greater opportunity.”

Amundsen said that the increased alumni retention rate is consistent with Ezra Cornell’s original goals in founding the University.

“When Cornell was founded, Ezra Cornell very much wanted the students to be a part of the community and have that living in the community be a part of their education,” Amundsen said.

Though Malina said the larger population of alumni staying in Ithaca is “great,” he added that keeping graduates local is not a priority for Cornell.

“We start from the premise of it being important that, during the years a student will be at Cornell, we enable them to be a fully engaged citizen of the community,” Malina said. “As to what they do afterwards, it’s wonderful if they stay, but if they move to Tioga County and do great things there, that’s good too. We’re not going to be deemed a failure if people leave New York.”

Malina also said that the new Engaged Cornell initiative and its initial gift of $50 million from the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust is promising for future engagement between the University and the surrounding area.

“[The initiative is] really about ensuring over the next number of years that every student who graduates from Cornell has, as part of his or her education, actual hands-on, inside the community engagement experience,” he said. “I think we’ll see enormous increases in opportunities for students and faculty to engage directly with local organizations, local leaders and, importantly, the people.”

Corey Earle ’07, associate director of student programs in the Office of Alumni Affairs, said he thinks the increased rate of Cornell alumni remaining local is “great.”

“As a young alumnus who chose to stay in Ithaca after graduation, I think it’s great to see Cornellians remaining in the area,” Earle said. “Sometimes graduates feel pressure to move on and go elsewhere, but there’s a vibrant community here beyond Cornell.”

Earle added that the city of Ithaca has many valuable career opportunities for recent Cornell graduates.

“Ithaca is a wonderful place to live and work,” he said. “Just ask Mayor Svante Myrick ’09.”

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