Unless otherwise noted, all source data comes from the Cornell University Factbook. For this, I’m only going to focus on the undergraduate population.

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When I was a student at Cornell (oh, for those halcyon days of the late 2000s…yes, I am joking), there was a quip that 38% of the students come from New York State, but 90% of them are from New York City and its suburbs. An exaggeration, but the large presence of Westchester and Nassau and the like was forever a source of tension, if only a minor one. With access to Cornell’s enrollment figures, we can see by just how much downstaters dominate the student population.

For anyone from outside of New York, this post probably won’t be a whole lot of interest to you. But for the kids that want to play along at home, here’s a map of the counties of New York, all 62 of them.

In what should be a surprise to absolutely no one, Nassau County on Long Island and Westchester County comprise the largest sources of Cornell undergrads – 654 and 607 students respectively. Given 14,453 undergrads in fall 2014, that means these two counties alone account for 8.72% of the UG population. NYS students number 4,602 of that 14,453, 31.84% of the student body. If we define downstate as Orange, Putnam, and everything south (the definition of where upstate and downstate divide is fraught with contention, so I’m going with a rough middle ground), then downstate comprises 2,971 of those 4,602 students, 64.56%, or just under two-thirds. Only one county has no representation at Cornell – Hamilton, which has only 4,773 residents (2013 estimate), the smallest population for any county in the state.

Now, I can already hear the commentary now – “BC, you misleading and ignorant a–hole, these numbers should be presented per capita.” Way ahead of you, irritable dear reader. I downloaded the 2013 county census estimates and decided to do a little data magic, looking at enrollment per 100,000 residents of a given county.

Tompkins dominates, no surprise there. Westchester is next, showing that living in a county comprised of mostly affluent, tony suburbs with school districts to match is handy for getting into the Ivy Leagues. From there, we see it’s a mix of New York City’s affluent suburbs and counties close to Tompkins – though St. Lawrence, up by the Quebec border. is something of an anomaly.

One more thing I wanted to write up before concluding this post, which really only scrapes the tip of the iceberg. The percentage of NYS students continues to decrease as the enrollment increases, as shown below. In fall 2002, 38.93% of students came from NYS; in fall 2008, that number shrank to 33.85%; and by fall 2014, 31.84%. I have no idea if the state has any sort of minimum number or floor percentage that Cornell must adhere to, but if the trend continues, I could imagine some legislators pushing for one.

In sum – the 38% value hasn’t been accurate since 2002, so that quip was outdated by the time I started my time at the Big Red. The 90% value is also a little high, but there’s definitely a large contingent of NYC suburbanites in the student population, and it doesn’t seem so large when broken down to per capita values.


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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.