This column was written by Brian Crandall, who runs “Ithacating in Cornell Heights.”

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Let’s be frank. People generally don’t go to college these days for educational enlightenment. It’s all about the return on investment, and that holds true for a school like Cornell. Here’s a look at some of the stats, courtesy of Cornell’s postgraduate surveys, which are taken in the subsequent six months from student graduation in May.

(Big disclaimer here – the response rate to these surveys is 70-75%, and I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the kids who find themselves with some motivation or bragging rights are probably the ones most likely to respond. Who wants to tell Cornell they’re living in Mom and Dad’s basement?)

With that disclaimer aside, here’s the cold hard cash stats. These charts leave off the class of 2014 because they have six months to submit info – until the end of the month, in other words.

Looking at the past several years, we can definitely see the influence of the 2008/2009 recession. “Other Endeavors” includes, travel, volunteer work, and actively seeking grad school/employment. This value has climbed by a third since 2008. The number of those attending grad school continues to drop from its recession high, while employed grads have rebounded.

There’s a well-documented inverse relationship between the economy and grad school enrollment – people want to make that cash when the economy’s good, but they hunker down and work towards advanced degrees when the bear market is growling.

Of those pursuing graduate studies, the top three, which are consistently the top three, are Engineering (M.Eng), Law School and Medicine. Law school has taken a hit in recent year due in part to the law school bubble bursting. The return on investment just isn’t what it used to be.

Now some real meat – mean and median salaries for the university as a whole, and for each college. Both mean and median are right around $55k, helped substantially by those engineering salaries. Electrical/Mechanical/Computer Engineering pays, kids, if you can survive the four-year blow to your self worth (looking at you, Diff Eq).

AAP is well below the average, pulling just over $43k in 2013; but AAP students also respond to the survey in smaller numbers, often only 40-50%. That could be a good thing (unreported high salaries) or a bad thing (living in Mom’s basement and too embarrassed to respond).

Cornell breaks down respondents by the type of work they do. The big ones are financial services (I-Banking) and consulting (more financial work), which pull in 30% of the graduating class. In more recent years, “Technology”, your Google, Twitter and tech startup employees, has been booming, thanks to rapid growth and rapid rise in pay. If the last tech bubble burst in 2000/2001 was any indication, the number pursuing technology jobs will drop significantly when a market correction occurs.

Tech is at the top of the average salaries graph, followed by our friends in banking.

Coming as no surprise, the graph shows working at a non-profit pays relatively poorly. There does seem to be a direct relationship between how boring/morally ambiguous a job is and how much one gets paid.

Lastly, average salaries by region. The West Coast (think Silicon Valley) leads the pack, followed by the always-expensive NYC Metro.

Upstate New York is at the bottom, perhaps because 1) it’s a cheap place to live, and 2) the jobs in upstate don’t tend to be high-end finance or tech jobs; agriculture and education would be more likely.

I can personally vouch for the West Coast being expensive; I was once offered a position in California that I estimated would incur an extra $20,000 in living expenses for things like rent, and the offered salary reflected that (I also discovered after they flew me out there for the interview/offer how much I would dislike the job, which threw me into a personal crisis…a fun story for another day).


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Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.