The Student Who Designed A Collegetown Apartment Building

12 08 2014

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Here’s another installment in the Collegetown history series.

I like to imagine that it’s every architect’s ambition to have one of their designs built, a building they can touch with their hands. For some, it takes longer than others. Firms have their hierarchies, and companies have their preferred architects. Many budding designers have to start out small, designing housing additions or lobby areas or pavilions, slowly working their up to larger and grander projects. I imagine the Cornell students hard at work in Sibley and Rand Halls dream of the day that one of their designs becomes reality.

It just so happens that for one Cornell student, their big break came a little sooner than most. It happened while they were still a student at Cornell. The building they designed stands in Collegetown today.

I’m not talking William Henry Miller, or some architect from the much simpler times of the nineteenth century. For this, I only need to go back to the early 1980s.

At the time, the company Student Agencies, Inc. was based at 409 College Avenue, just like it is today. Student Agencies is a student-run business that operates Big Red Shipping and Storage, Hired Hands Moving, and produces the Cornellian yearbook and TakeNote, among other things. 409 College is the second building from left in the lead image, and I’ve included a google screencap below. Back in the Disco Era, the Student Agencies building was a rather ramshackle three-story house with a bump-out. You can see the outline of it here, in a photo of College Avenue ca. 1968. The building housed Student Agencies, and a restaurant called “The Vineyard”, a 1970s mainstay for bland Italian-like food until it closed in 1980.


In the fall of 1980, Student Agencies decided to up their game with a new, modern apartment building, one of the first planned in Collegetown area. At the time, Collegetown was still something of a drug-ridden ghetto, lacking today’s high-end units and wealthy students; it was a no-go for many Cornellians. Student Agencies, being the shrewd businesspeople they are, decided to add a twist to their development by making it into a design competition. In a collaboration with Cornell’s architecture school, 4th and 5th year architecture students were invited to submit designs for a mixed-use structure on the site, within zoning constraints. The designs would then be judged on practicality and aesthetics. The judges consisted of the Chairman of the Architecture Department (Jerry Wells), another Cornell architecture professor (Michael Dennis), two Syracuse University architecture professors (Werner Seligmann, the dean, and Prof. Walter Danzinger), Mick Bottge of the Ithaca City Planning Board, and two Student Agencies reps, Peter Nolan and Ed Clement. The winner would not only see their design built, but also win $1,000 (about $2,893 today). Three runner-ups would receive $250 each, and $250 would be donated by SA to publish a booklet of the designs. $2,000 ($5,786 adjusted) was a lot less than hiring a design firm, and it also gave Cornell students an ability to showcase their talents in a practical event. Win-win.

27 designs were received. Now, I would sacrifice a goat to your deity of choice if it allowed me to obtain a copy of the booklet, but I’m afraid I’m out of goats. The winners were announced in March 1981, and the first prize went to Grace R. Kobayashi ’81. The runner-ups were Mustafa K. Abadan ’82, Dean J. Almy ’82, and George M. How ’82. Ms. Kobayashi’s five-story design called for a theater, retail space, and apartments on the upper floors. In an interview with the Sun, she mentioned that although the competition ran for three months, she created her design in only a week and a half. As for the award money, she added “realistically, the award money will go towards graduate school, but maybe I’ll go to Europe.”

Property of the Cornell Daily Sun.

Property of the Cornell Daily Sun.

Well, Ms. Kobayashi wouldn’t have to worry about grad school money. The following year, she received an extremely prestigious fellowship from the internationally-renowned architecture firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, to the tune of $10,000. The history gets harder to trace after that; she was selected as a fellow for the Amercian Academy in Rome in 1989, and had been a practicing architect in the NYC area at the time. Presently, it looks like she may be an instructor at the Pratt Institute in NYC. Mustafa Abadan is a partner at SOM, Dean Almy is an associate professor of architecture at UT-Austin, and George How went to work for equally-presitgious Kohn Pedersen Fox, and co-designed NASA’s headquarters. Sadly, he passed away in 1993 due to complications related to AIDS, aged 35.

As for the building, it would be a few years before it was built, finally beginning construction in 1985 and finishing in fall 1986. Today, it blends in seamlessly to the fabric of the 400 block of College Avenue, creating a fully built-out block of similar massing and scale, unique and yet part of a cohesive group that gives some some urbanity to Collegetown. I wonder how many other towns can claim to have a Grace Kobayashi design in their midst?

That Time Someone Wanted a 10-Story Building on Stewart Avenue

30 07 2014


In keeping with the history theme that is another facet of this blog, here’s a historical construction project to go with all the Collegetown news in the past week. After all, one giant proposal deserves another, 50 years its senior.

I owe reader “Ex-Ithacan” for suggesting this one, as he remembered the proposal when he was a kid, and inquired about it on the website Although his source was the Ithaca Journal, I had a hunch the Cornell Sun would have also run a feature about such a large project, so I checked the Sun archives.

Oh hey, I was right. An article about the project, from February 16, 1965, can be found here, sandwiching some extraordinarily sexist advertisements. First, let’s try and put ourselves in the 1965 timeframe. Cornell was rapidly expanding, Collegetown was even more of a ghetto than it is now (let’s not forget old Ctown’s heroin sales and murder), and the big theme for cities was Urban Renewal, where cities desperately tore down their inner cores in an effort to draw in suburban-style development that might bring people back into the cities (retrospectively, this was by and large a failure). Anyone looking back at this time as idyllic in Ithaca is blowing smoke.


The site in question is 403-415 Stewart Avenue. The site was home to a luxurious house belonging to Zeta Psi until WWII; after they moved out, it burnt down a few years later, and the site was reclaimed as it is now – a parking lot used by Cornell.

The parking lot was to be developed by a private group called “State and Aurora Corporation” into a 10-story building housing 70 luxury apartments. The intended clientele were Cornell faculty, Cornell retirees, and deep-pocketed locals. The building would have had a construction cost of $1 million (about $7.57 million today). Even at this time, zoning of the site allowed only 4 floors, so it needed a variance. Cornell placed a high value on the property, and since they owned the lot, one of the sale stipulations was that their staff would have had first dibs on 3/4ths pf the units, similar to what we’re seeing with the Greenways project off of Honness Lane.


The design itself is a dated melange of modernism and brutalism, created by Sherwood Holt (no relation to Ithaca-based HOLT Architects). The 70 units ran the gamut from studios to 3 bedrooms, and the top two floors were designed to be larger “penthouse” units. There would have been 67 feet of frontage on Stewart Avenue, and 109 feet on Williams Street. I wouldn’t call it much in the way of frontage though, it looks to be built onto a podium. Zoning at the time required two parking spaces per unit, so this project would have needed 140 spaces. 70 were surface spaces on the south side of the lot, and 70 were in the pedestrian-unfriendly podium (an ordinance at the time required half of all new parking spaces to be “indoor” spaces).

Also like now, proponents and opponents had similar arguments to today’s debates. Mayor Hunna Johns promoted the revenue it would bring (which would pay for the city’s investment in sewer lines to the site), and because Cornell had expressed interest in building on the site, local officials feared another tax-exempt property if the private developer wasn’t granted approval. On the other end of the spectrum, about 50 local residents signed a petition against the proposal, saying it would burden utilities and cause congestion. It looks like the planning board had only minor suggestions for the development, so it’s hard to imagine it didn’t get ZBA approval.

So why wasn’t it built? My guess is that Cornell did an assessment of its needs, and decided that it wasn’t a high priority to sell to the developer; and when the Ithaca real estate market crashed in the late 1960s, it probably killed the proposal for good. Cornell still owns the site, but zoning rules permit only a 4-story 40′ building (as they did in 1965). It’s outside of the Collegetown zoning, and if it ever gets developed is anyone’s guess.

The more things change, the more things stay the same.



Cornell’s Presidential Credentials

2 05 2014


Making its rounds in the news over the past couple of months, Cornell’s president, David Skorton, is leaving the gorges of Ithaca to be the secretary (head) of the Smithsonian down in Washington D.C. The departure of Skorton in June 2015 will give him a tenure of about nine years, which as Cornell presidents go, is about average. Considering how many college presidents view their institutions as stepping stones, trying to get out of a place as soon as they have a year under their belt and another line on the resume (Excelsior, I suppose), Cornell’s not doing all that badly in this respect. Of course, this also opens up the task of trying to find Skorton’s successor, a task that is by no means an easy one.

In a meeting about what to look for in the next president, an audience member expressed that they would be very disappointed if all the candidates were white men. I hope the candidates aren’t all old white dudes, but I suspect this is mostly going to be a battle of credentials. In that vein, I decided to take a look at the credentials of Cornell’s past president, prior to their hire.

Andrew Dickson White – Hard to use here because he co-founded Cornell, so the circumstances aren’t comparable to other presidents. A.D. White’s resume prior to Cornell includes a B.A. and an M.A. from Yale, a stint working as a translator for the U.S. ambassador to Russia, a professorship at U. Michigan, and at the time of Cornell’s founding, a state senator out of Syracuse. Six years after his term at Cornell was voluntarily concluded in 1885, he had been asked to serve as the first president of Stanford University, but declined.

Charles Kendall Adams – Assistant professor at Michigan, 1863-1867, then full professor from 1867-1885. He was a former student and close colleague of A.D. White. Adams’s time at Cornell was a tumultuous and unhappy one, and he resigned due to conflicts with the Board of Trustees in 1892, after only seven years of service. His nine years that followed at U. Wisconsin would be much more amicable.

Jacob Gould Schurman – Professor, Acadia College (Canada), 1880-1882; Professor, Dalhousie College, 1882-1886; Professor, Cornell University, 1886-1892. Dean of the Sage School of Philosophy, 1891-1892. Schurman had the longest tenure of any president, at 28 years (1892-1920).

Livingston Farrand – M.D., Columbia, 1891. Doctor of Laws (LL.D.), Cambridge and Berlin, 1893. Adjunct professor of psychology, Columbia, member of multiple anthropological expeditions to the Pacific Northwest. Full professor of anthropology at Columbia, 1903-1914. President of U.Colorado, 1914-1919. Treasurer of the American Public Health Association (1912-1914), Executive Secretary for a tuberculosis prevention group (1905), Director in France for the International Health Board, 1917-1919. Chairman of the American Red Cross. Cornell president, 1921-1937; he died in Manhattan two years later.

Edmund Ezra Day – Degrees in economics, BA and MA from Dartmouth, PhD from Harvard. From 1923, professor at U. Michigan, where he would advance to become first dean of their business school, and dean of the university. President of Cornell 1937-1949. He passed away shortly after his resignation. the interim president, provost Cornelis de Kiewiet, would act as president for two years before a successor was approved. He would leave that same year to serve out a decade as president of the Univ. of Rochester.

Deane Malott – B.A. in economics from U. Kansas and a Harvard M.B.A. Assistant Dean/Assistant Professor at Harvard, 1923-1929. Vice President, Hawaiian Pineapple Company (now Dole), 1929-1934. Professor, Harvard, 1934-1939. Chancellor, U. Kansas, 1939-1951. Sat on numerous corporate boards. Deane Malott served 12 years at Cornell, 1951-1963, before he retired. Malott was noted as an excellent fund-raiser, and although personally a social conservative, he had a liberal approach to Cornell’s intellectual pursuits.

James Perkins – Degrees in political science from Swarthmore (BA) and Princeton (PhD). Professor, Princeton, 1937-1941. Administrator, United States Office of Price Administration and the Foreign Economic Administration, 1941-1945. Vice president, Swarthmore, 1945-1950. Vice President, Carnegie Corporation (an educational foundation), 1950-1963. Perkins served as president for six years, 1963-1969, before stepping down in the aftermath of the Willard Straight takeover. Afterwards, he served as the chairman and CEO of the International Council for Educational Development for 20 years.

Dale Corson – BA (Emporia College), MA (U. Kansas), PhD (Physics, U.C. Berkeley, 1938).  Co-discoverer of the element astatine. Helped to develop radar during WWII. Associate professor of physics, Cornell, 1947-1956. Full professor, 1956. Dean of the Engineering School, 1959-1963. Provost of Cornell, 1963-1969. Appointed president after Perkins’s resignation, Corson was considered a mild-mannered scientist who provided stability to the university through the 1970s. After eight years, Corson resigned as president in 1977, becoming Chancellor and then appointed president emeritus.

Frank H.T. Rhodes – U. Birmingham (UK), BA,MA, PhD (Geology, 1951). Fulbright Scholar, U. Illinois, 1950-1951. Professor of geology, U. Durham (UK), 1951-1954. Assistant professor, U. Illinois, 1954-1955. Associate Professor, U. Illinois, 1955-1956. Geology. Dept head, U. Wales-Swansea (UK), 1956-1967. Dean of science, U. Wales-Swansea, 1967-1968. Visiting research scholar, Ohio State, 1965-66. Professor, U. Michigan, 1968-1971. Dean, College of Literature, Science and the Arts at U. Michigan, 1971-1974. Vice president of academic affairs, U. Michigan, 1974-1977. Frank Rhodes served as Cornell president from 1977-1995. He is a professor emeritus of the geology department and still lives in Ithaca.

Hunter R. Rawlings III – B.A. (Classics, Haverford College, 1966), PhD (Classics, Princeton, 1970). Associate Professor, U. Colorado-Boulder, 1970-1980. Dean of classics dept., U. Colorado-Boulder, 1978-1980. Recipient of U. Colorado teaching excellence award, 1979.  Full professor, U. Colorado, 1980-1988. Associate vice chancellor, 1980-1984. President, U. Iowa, 1988-1995. Rawlings served as president of Cornell from 1995 to 2003, and later as the interim president between Lehman and Skorton. Rawlings was known as a strong fundraiser, but was criticized for his hands-off approach to the university. He continues a professor at Cornell, and is also the president of the American Association of Universities.

Jeffrey Lehman – the only one with Cornell in his pedigree prior to his presidency. BA, Cornell (mathematics, 1977). J.D. and an M.P.P. (Master of Public Policy), U. Michigan, 1981. Law clerk to Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (1982-83),  Lawyer, Caplin & Drysdale, 1983-1987, Assistant law professor, U. Michigan, 1987-1992, Professor of law/law and public policy, 1992-2003, Dean of U. Michigan law school, 1994-2003. Lehman served only two years as Cornell president before suddenly stepping down due to disagreements with the trustees; what specifically caused the rift remains a subject of debate. He continued as a Cornell law professor until 2012, and is now the vice chancellor of NYU Shanghai.

David Skorton – BS (Psychology, Northwestern, 1970), M.D. (Northwestern, 1974). Medical residency in cardiology, UCLA. Instructor, U. Iowa, 1980. Assistant Professor in internal medicine, U. Iowa, 1981. Assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering, U. Iowa, 1982. Vice president of research, U. Iowa, 1992. Vice president for research and external relations, U. Iowa, 2002. Chancellor, U. Iowa, 2003-2006.

So if the latest presidents are any indicator, they’re going to have a lot of education, a lot of titles on their resume, and more likely than not, hail from a large state school. Given our trend for Iowans, has anyone contacted Sally Mason yet?





The Cornell Safety Car

28 01 2014

Except when traveling in and out of Ithaca, Cornell generally plays no role in my travels. Recently, I paid a trip to the vacation destination that is Detroit, Michigan. While on this trip, my hosts suggested a visit to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, where we came across this.

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This homely piece of 1950s Americana is the Cornell Safety Car. It was produced by the Automotive Crash Injury Research Center, run by John O. Moore at the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory in Buffalo (previously briefed here), and built in 1956 with funding from Liberty Mutual Insurance. We take for granted the safety features of today’s vehicles, but in the 1950s, those glimmering bullets of metal and chrome were essentially high-speed death traps, with the number of fatalities increasing every year. Hence, a need was seen to try and improve safety for America’s road warriors.

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The lab was one of the first to do crash testing; first with airplanes in WWII, then with cars. Early on, before the use of realistic test dummies, Moore and his cohorts got in touch with their inner Frankensteins and used corpses, along with an array of high speed cameras and instruments to measure and analyze impact forces.

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Among some of the features that would later become vehicular staples – front seat headrests, wrap-around bumpers, bucket seats, and seat belts a-plenty. Among those that didn’t, or have faded out – rear-facing back seats, steering handles (because steering wheels collapsed and steering columns would break your heart in case of accident), panoramic windshields (a big selling point in the later ’50s and ’60s), accordion doors, a center position for the driver’s seat, and nylon webbing for rear seat head restraints. All of this encased in a perfect 1950s shade of teal, rocket fins included.

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My, how concept vehicles have improved with time to become more attracti-…nope, scratch that.

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The Cornell Sesquicentennial Commemorative Grove

18 01 2014


When Cornell celebrated its centennial in 1965, there was a week-long series of lectures, many congratulatory letters, and in proof that some things never change, plenty of solicitations to alumni to donate to the $73.2 million donation campaign (the commemorative Sun issue shows a different angle of the same 1960s era campus plan on page 20 that I featured on the blog a few years ago). Offhand, I’m not aware of anything was built in the name of the anniversary, but I guess for its 150th, Cornell has decided to give itself something for the occasion.

The project is a landscaped area, with the working name being the overly long “Cornell Sesquicentennial Commemorative Grove”. Taking full advantage of symbolism, the grove is strategically cited directly west and downslope of the statues of Ezra Cornell and A.D. White on the Arts Quad.


The project itself, which as been briefed previously over at Ithaca Builds,  consists of stone benches inscribed with quotes by famous Cornellians, pavers will with a timeline of significant events in Cornell history, and a sort of mood lighting by rigging fixtures into the trees. The overall size of the installation is about 1,700 sq ft. The architects of this plan are campus favorites Weiss/Manfredi, the same people doing the Co-Location building at the Tech Campus, and the renovations and additions to the vet school. I imagine Cornell would like this project done in time for Alumni Weekend 2015, which would also mark my first true Cornell reunion (5-year).


A full rundown is available here, but it reads like one long advertisement for the university. On the bright side, at least the university’s landscaped spaces then to look more visually pleasing than its constructions.  I have hogh hopes for this one, it could be a nice place to spend a June evening.

How Does One Fill A Former Sorority House

8 12 2013

Image property of O’connor Apartments

This one was forwarded to me by an observant reader, L.D. It’s a listing on Craigslist for rentals available for June 2014 at 114 the Knoll (I always thought it was 115 the Knoll, but the listing photo matches my photos), which has served as a chapter house for a few different sororities over the years, the last being Alpha Xi Delta, which moved to another house on Ridgewood Road in 2010. More recently, the house has been occupied by a campus Christian group, Chesterton House. Chesterton’s house website notes a 2014 goal for purchasing a property near campus to serve as their permanent home, and I’m assuming that if this posting is up, then there’s a strong chance they succeeded in achieving that goal (if anyone knows where they decided to settle, feel free to comment or email me).

Quoting the listing:

“Beautiful arts and crafts house on North Campus available for June 2014. $750 per bedroom for 16 bedrooms plus utilities. Can hold up to 22 for the same price. Large living room with leather furniture. Banquet size dining room. Cook’s kitchen. You have to see to believe. Use [sic] to be a sorority. Email or call [redacted]“

This seems like a more unusual, and perhaps somewhat more difficult way to fill a large group home. Although the email links to the O’Connor Apartments property group, I don’t see it in their property listings, and I think they’re only handling the rental aspect of the house on behalf of another entity. My guess is that Delta Phi Epsilon sorority still owns the property, and with no short-term prospects of restarting their chapter, they need some way to try and keep revenue coming in for upkeep of the house. On one hand, they could sell to Cornell, which takes care of the tax issue, but then they’re at Cornell’s mercy – the house most likely becomes a dorm and there’s nothing Delta Phi Epsilon would be able to do, especially since they’ve gone a decade without an active chapter (there were attempts to re-colonize about three years ago, which did not materialize – the whole process being the subject of enough gossip at the time that one could have written a book about it). Yet another option is another private sale, like the home at 210 Thurston that was sold a couple years ago to the wealthy parents of a Cornell wrestler, renovated, and now serves as the home of Cornell wrestling team.

This is one of those houses that seems to routinely pass between groups at Cornell. I’ll be curious to see what happens.

Edit 1/23/14: Maybe I’m wrong about DPhiE still owning the property. I forgot that it was listed in July 2009 and sold in January 2010. Perhaps now the O’Connor Apartments firm owns the building.

Fast Facts: Tuition Rates

26 11 2013

To go with your Thanksgiving meals, here’s some food for thought, courtesy of the university factbook.

Tuition goes up in fits and starts. Consider the graph for the endowed colleges shown below.


In 1973, tuition and fees added up to about $3,180, a 6% increase over the previous year. According to the inflation calculator from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is equivalent to about $16,727 dollars today. Put into further perspective, that was about the same price as a brand-new Chevy Chevelle Laguna Colonnade sedan. You know it’s a great car when it has that many names. Median household income was $9,226, so tuition was about 34.5% of the mean household’s annual income.

If the annual tuition hikes seem a bit high in the 1970s and early 1980s, it’s for good reason – this was a period known for stagflation, where the economy grew at anemic rates (if it all), while inflation continued to rise near 10% yearly. Fall 1981 was particularly shocking, with a 19.5% increase in tuition and fees over the previous academic year, from $5,860 to $7,000. Still, compared to today, that BLS calculator says $7,000 in 1981 has about as much buying power as $17,985 dollars today. Put another way, that was about 36.7% of annual household income in 1981 ($19,074). Or to illustrate the advances in computers, a top of the line IBM 5150 PC cost about $6k, with color graphics and a 256kb hard drive.

Since 1983, there have been no annual increases greater than 10%. By 1993, tuition and fees went up a relatively modest 5.5% to $18,226. With the exception of the 5.5% increase in Fall 2007, all other years in the two decades since have been less than 5.5%, falling somewhere between 4% and the low 5’s. Fall 2009 is the lowest at 4%, likely an effect of the Great Recession. Inflation-adjusted, tuition cost about $29,458 in 2013 dollars. Keeping with the theme, household income was $30,210 in 1993, or about 60.33% of annual household income. So through the 80s and early 90s, we’re starting to see this rapid relative rise in tuition vs. income, even though the annual increases have dropped off as inflation lessened.

Fast forward ten more years to 2003. The mean household annual income was $42,560. Knowing my own family’s finances, we were about a little below that average. Tuition in 2003 had increased 5% over the previous year to $28,754, or 67.6% of mean household annual income. Or to a working-class family like mine, it meant being told at a young age that if you didn’t get scholarships, you weren’t going to college.

The most recent estimate for mean household annual income is about $51,017. Tuition at an endowed college is $45,358 this year, a 4.5% increase over 2012. 88.9% of the mean household’s income in a year. There’s a reason why college debt gets so much attention these days.

For the purpose of being all-encompassing, in-state tuition for the contract colleges, followed by non-resident tuition at those schools, is included below:



Year   Tuition (NYS/non-res)  nys:non-res   MHAI         Tuition as % of MHAI

1973   $1,350/2,100                  0.642              $9,226           14.6%/22.8%

1981   $2,800/4,700                 0.596              $19,074         14.7%/24.6%

1993   $7,426/14,106                0.526              $30,210         24.6%/46.7%

2003  $14,624/25,924             0.564              $42,560         34.4%/60.9%

2013   $29,218/45,358             0.644              $51,017          57.3%/88.9%

Note that 1981 is a little misleading, as in-state tuition was jacked up $500 dollars for Fall 1982. Everything moves slower in state government. Except the tuition hikes themselves, those seem to be increasing at a pretty good clip.

Now, all of this information sounds pretty scary, and sticker shock certainly is. But the mean household income would get a full ride to Cornell on grants and scholarships. I was fortunate enough that Cornell’s revised program kicked in before my junior year, and even before that, my contributions were very modest. My debt load is small enough that it will be paid off by next spring. Cornell enabled a working class kid like me to go to a top college. For that I am thankful. Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Fast Facts: Cornell Enrollment Figures

20 09 2013

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Some insights via the University Factbook

- Cornell’s enrollment has grown markedly from 2002-2012, from 19,575 to 21,424 students.


Which is not really the result of increases in undergrad transfers, which show no long-term trend (stays near 550, give or take a few percent).


Although UG enrollment has increased 3.9% over the decade (from 13,725 in 2002 to 14,261 in Fall 2012). In effect, undergrads aren’t the major growth component here.


Haha, of course not. Undergrads often require aid. And the proportion of the student population receiving aid has increased over the decade, from 48 to 57 percent:


Worth noting, the primary jump, from 2007 to 2009 (46.73% to 56,49%) ties in pretty well with the enactment of Cornell then-new financial aid policy, and the economic nosedive of the late 2000s.

The growth comes from our workhorses – the grad students, many of whom have stipends and tuition waivers in return for their TA/RA work:


…and our cashcows, the professional students like those pursuing law degrees and MBAs, and paying out for those degrees (Fall 2013 values $57,270/yr and $55,948/yr respectively). Yes, I’m aware many business pay for their employees to get MBAs, but the point is, someone’s ponying up the cash.


Grad students increased from 4288 to 5049 over 10 years (+17.75%) and professional students from 1562 to 2114 (+35.34%).

In tying in to the other theme of this blog, all those grad students and professional students have to be housed somewhere, and only a very small number can find space on campus. There you go Ithaca real estate developers, there’s another positive factor in your growing market. Assuming the 2.0 figure for the average number of unrelated people sharing a unit. you get 925 units. West Campus added no new beds, so I’m pretty sure the on-campus resident population from 2002-2012 was nearly static.

Cornell Drops a Spot and the World is Ending

10 09 2013

USN&WR drops Cornell from 15th to 16th and the entire Cornell-centric world becomes unglued.

“If we don’t get back to top 12 soon, I’m rescinding my diploma.”

“it was 12 like my sophomore year with Columbia at 10.
now it’s 16 and Columbia is at 4. Yay for Skorton!”

Not even in top 15.. Cornell is dilutinge ivy league brand.. Should apologize to rest of ivys…

Quick Trudy, grab the smelling salts, I fear a mass fainting spell is a-comin’.

Ignoring the fact that rankings are becoming a dime a dozen, and that USN&WR tweaked its ranking system, I’m going to focus on the historical standpoint of rankings. First off, a brief check of previous rankings of Cornell by USN&WR. As noted by the Chronicle, Cornell’s US News ranking generally fluctuated between 10th and 14th from 1989-2009. More specifically:

2014: 16th

2010, 2011, 2012, 2013: 15th

2009: 14th

2008: 13th

2007: 12th

2006: 13th

2002, 2003, 2004, 2005: 14th

2001: 10th

2000: 11th

1999: 6th

1998, 1997: 14th

1996: 13th

1995: 15th

1994: 10th

1993: 11th

1992: 12th

1991: 9th

1990: 11th

1989: 14th

1988: 11th

1983: 8th

Let me offer a visualization:


Cornell has only briefly flirted with rankings of 12th or higher in the past two decades. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that in general, it’s less what Cornell is doing and the changes have more to do with the way the rankings are calculated. Noting the above commenters, and that Columbia was last ranked 10th in 2003, it’s essentially a group of knee-jerk reactions from not-so-young alumni.  With regards to the previous entry, we’ve seen that US News’s ranking has little bearing on the acceptance rates, application numbers, and applicant yields. I understand the prestige factor and concerns if this worsens, but unless your job is extraordinarily dependent on your alma mater’s current ranking by a single agency, I suggest toning down the hysterics.

It’s the same damn thing every time. Ranking drops, people from that school are up in arms, the school is decaying, students are worse these days, its the admin’s fault, don’t associate with me with that lowly school. Ranking goes up, people call it “the new/public/Southern/Western Ivy/Harvard/insert prestige item here” and croon about how smart they are, even if they went there twenty years ago when its rankings were lower.

It’s good to assess the school’s direction periodically, but with every annual reranking, some alums need a reality check more than anything else.




Fast Facts – Cornell Admissions

5 09 2013

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Well if this isn’t just one of the best one-stop shopping sites for Cornell facts. Five years ago, when this blog started, the “University Factbook” would best be described as a bunch of sparsely-populated webpages and a ramshackle set of links between them, more of an amateur endeavor than anything specific produced by the university. This is quite much awesome.

Since I feed off of Cornell/Cornelliana facts much like an addict looking for their next hit, I thought it was fascinating to consider enrollment trends and things of those numbers in context. Since the graphs start at 1980, I’ll start from there as well. Note that these figures cover undergraduate admissions only.

  • Looking at the number of applications and starting with the 17,007 in 1980, there’s a steady rise through most the 1980s, peaking in fall 1988 with 21,765 applications. From there, the numbers drop off to about 20,000 and stay close to that value until the fall of 2004, where a rapid ascension commences. Much of this can be explained by Cornell starting to accept the Common Application, where a check of the box equals another base application, making it much easier for the prospect to apply to 20 schools instead of a few.  Arts and Sciences and CALS follow the same general trend, while engineers never had much of a peak in the 80s, and AAP applications have dropped off since 2010. HumEc has stayed roughly constant since the late 1980s, the Hotel school shows the most wild swings, and ILR really took off in 2006, when some folks decided that being a lawyer was the path to easy riches. We also have the ones that don’t choose a school, which if I remember right, means an automatic rejection. Cornell shows at least 1,000 a year since 2006, and over 2,000 in 2008. Nice one, kids.
  • Looking at acceptances, Cornell started the ’80s with around 5500 acceptances per cycle, creeping past 6,000 as the decade progressed. For some reason, the numbers shot up in the 1990s to over 7,000 acceptances by 1993, and stayed near that number through 1998. After that, Cornell became more stringent, and acceptances dropped to 5,861 by 2001. Numbers have stayed in the 6,000 range since, with mini-peaks in the fall 2006 and 2008 classes, and little dips in the early 2000s and with the most recent classes.
  • The largest freshman classes? 2011, with 3356, followed by 1993(3286) and 2013(3282). The lows were all in the early 1980s, led by 1982(2785), and followed by 1980(2836) and 1981(2885). Cornell’s capacity has grown over the years, as the north campus townhouses were built in 1989, and CKB/Mews were opened in 2001. Notably, the last sub-3,000 class, in 1992(2959), seems to have precipitated the 1993 peak. No schools show any discernible trends, although Engineering’s numbers were up during the days of the 1990s tech boom.
  • The highest yields for the university (average 49.2%) were in 1984, 2000, 2001, and post-2010 (2013 is the highest at 53.4%). The lowest yields were 1992-97 and the mid 2000s. 1992 was the lowest at 44.4%. The university will have its work cut out for it as the echo boomers/millennials finish their collegiate years and schools compete over what may be smaller applicant pools.
  • HumEc shows the widest range in yield, with a low of 48% in 1983 to a high of 96% with the fall 2001 frosh class (the latest class is 67%). Schools with specialized focuses, like ILR and Hotel, seem to have the best yields, as Hotel pulls numbers consistently near 90%, and ILR does as well (albeit a little more inconsistently). CALS also pulls above average numbers, which may be in part to the in-state tuition benefit. Engineers are close to the university average (damn you MIT), while Arts has an average yield only in the upper 30s (there’s just so many liberal arts schools to compete with, not to mention the other Ivies…)
  • On average, women have a slightly higher yield than men, 49.9% vs. 48.4%. A few years, such as 2008, had a higher yield for men than women.


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