February 4, 2013

EDITORIAL: To Bolster Upstate Economy, Keep Cornell Graduates Local

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Cornell is not known for being geographically diverse; a plurality of its students hail from the Tri-State Area. Since Cornell is New York State’s land-grant university, this regionalism is certainly justified. But being a land-grant institution does not only mean that Cornell has a mission to educate some of the best and brightest New Yorkers; it also has an obligation to attract the talented students from across the United States and the world, and keep them in the state. With upstate New York continuing to struggle economically, Cornell should incentivize students to stay in the region and help revitalize upstate communities.

Though Cornell has worked to attract more students from across the U.S., about 28 percent of students — both because of the University’s land-grant mission and its geographical location — still hail from New York. In recent years, the University has worked to diversify its student body — geographically, racially and socioeconomically. We commend the Administration for committing to these diversity initiatives, and encourage them to continue bringing in more students from traditionally underrepresented states. But with upstate communities struggling to achieve economic prosperity, the challenge the University now must face is how to keep students here in the Southern Tier and Central New York, and reverse the brain drain that has plagued the region.

The decline of manufacturing in upstate counties and a shortage of jobs requiring advanced degrees has contributed to an exodus of young adults from the region. According to the New York State Center on Rural Schools, if New York State did not include New York City, it would rank 49th out of 50 states in terms of the percentage of people migrating into the state. Without efforts from institutions like Cornell to spur job creation and inspire young college graduates to remain in the area, the region’s economy will only worsen.

Though Cornell has strong ties to the Southern Tier region, all too often these bonds are not shared by its students. After four years on The Hill, newfound Cornell graduates are quick to leave Ithaca for New York City and its environs, either because that’s where their families are or where they can find jobs. As a land-grant institution, Cornell has a responsibility to help benefit the entire state — including New York City. But New York City’s gain should not be in exchange for upstate’s loss. Rather than letting graduates flee Ithaca for the bright lights of the city, the University should incentivize graduates to stay in upstate New York — a region desperately hurting for a talented workforce.

As Cornell looks to expand partnerships between academia and industry with the Cornell NYC Tech campus and Weill Cornell Medical College, it should apply this same strategy to help boost the upstate economy — an approach advocated by William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Expanded and more visible partnerships between Cornell and businesses in the region would help attract graduates and keep them in upstate New York. As Gov. Andrew Cuomo looks to fund capital projects in the region to grow the upstate economy, job opportunities in health care, energy and agriculture are likely to increase. However, in order to keep more Cornellians in the region, the University must translate these partnerships into strong relations with upstate communities. Giving Cornellians a shared identity with the people of Upstate New York will incentivize them to stay in the region after they leave The Hill.