April 14, 2005

Study: Most New Yorkers Support Higher Ed.

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Data released by Cornell’s Survey Research Institute revealed the extent to which New York State residents feel a connection to Cornell. The survey also examined the importance they place on higher education funding.

Sixty-eight percent of New York State residents surveyed for this year’s Empire State Poll selected higher education as a “high priority” for the state budget, according to results released by the School of Industrial Labor Relations’ Survey Research Institute (SRI). In addition, 22 percent of respondents correctly identified Cornell as the state’s land grant institution, and 29 percent of respondents reported either frequently or occasionally participating in a Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) program or receiving information from a local extension office.

Begun in 2003, the Empire State Poll interviews about 800 randomly selected upstate and downstate residents each spring in order to assess public opinion across the state, and provide quantifiable data to leaders in policy, labor, media, industry and academia.

There were pronounced regional variations in the data. While 73 percent of downstate residents selected higher education as a high priority, only 59 percent of upstate residents selected the same. Yasamin Miller, director of the Survey Research Institute, said, “The [education] situation downstate is much more dire.” She noted that budgetary upheavals and school closings make education more of a hot-button issue for downstate residents.

Erik Nisbet, research associate at SRI and manager of the Empire State Poll, said the regional variation “reflects the ongoing debate regarding [education] funding and spending in New York … There’s generally a perception in downstate New York that more spending in general needs to be allocated to education.”

Responses also varied by demographic groups. Residents who were young, non-white, had lower incomes or had children between 12 and 17 years old were most likely to select higher education as a high budget priority. Nisbet said these groups are “probably most likely to take advantage of higher education or are most likely to take advantage of financial aid.”

Governor Pataki’s budgetary allocation of $9 billion to higher education this year was intended to exemplify a strong commitment to higher education.

“Clearly, Albany has given importance to higher education in a way that begins to reflect the attachment New Yorkers have to this issue,” said Tommy Bruce, vice president for communications and media relations.

The survey’s other results about residents’ awareness of Cornell’s land grant status and their contact with Cornell Cooperative Extension, revealed the specific connection that New Yorkers have to Cornell.

Thirty percent of upstate respondents were aware that Cornell is the state’s land grant institution, compared to 17 percent of downstate respondents. Nisbet, as well as Bruce, separately said they were hesitant to draw any conclusions about the figures, since they had no data about how cognizant other state’s residents were of their land grant institutions.

They attributed the upstate and downstate variation to physical proximity to Cornell. They also see it as no coincidence that 42 percent of upstate respondents reported some relationship with CCE, compared to half as many downstate respondents.

Bruce applauded CCE for reaching one in three residents. They “deserve a huge victory lap for being able to touch people to that extent,” he said.

Mike Duttweiler, assistant director of CCE, wrote via e-mail to The Sun, “…most organizations would be very happy to enjoy that high a rate [of outreach].”

Duttweiler attributed it to CCE’s broad mix of programs which address a range of topics, such as the environment, health and nutrition, youth development, agriculture and food systems, and community development. At the same time, he said, “we have specifically identified audiences within each of those programs… Such intensive involvement… gets masked in a statewide survey.”

He also noted that some residents may participate in extension programs without making the connection to Cornell.

“One of the best examples is the 4-H Youth Development program. 4-H is among the most visible youth programs in the country and a very high proportion of NY residents likely would indicate awareness or involvement with the program. However, the same individuals may not make the connection between 4-H and Cooperative Extension and therefore not show up in a general awareness survey,” he wrote.

Bruce, who placed the survey questions in the Empire State Poll, wants to reach out and improve residents’ awareness of the University. “An amazing amount of people have experiences with Cornell [through CCE] every day,” said Bruce.

“Clearly so many people benefit from Cornell, but so few make the connection that Cornell University is the land grant institution. It points to a communications opportunity to tell our story… New York State should be a wonderful echo chamber for Cornell,” he added.

Bruce said that when Cornell staff and faculty brought a report of the University’s statewide activities to Albany on March 29, it was so well received “that the president of the Senate asked for 61 copies to be delivered to his office, so that every State Senator could have a copy. This is a fantastic effort at telling our story, and we need to make sure that this story gets told.”

Archived article by Heather Klein
Sun Contributor