Higher Education

student party

An email yesterday announced the town’s creation of a new ordinance that creates additional fines and penalties surrounding parties. It’s a law that clearly targets student behavior and culture.

So here’s the thing. I lived in Cortland for three years. I didn’t live near students, but I can understand the impulse here. I don’t want my kids kept awake by late night parties. I don’t want my yard trashed. I’d rather not walk down my block and see the detritus of parties (trash, various bodily excretions, etc.). I also recognize a different concern here about student drinking, safety, and health, to say nothing of their engagement with their studies in a serious way.

In other words, there are genuine issues to address here. We all also know of the long-standing clashes that occur between students and towns that go back to the Middle Ages and the formation of Cambridge (which occurred after a series of conflicts between Oxford students and townsfolk lead to the creation of the neighboring university).

Those are all old stories. Here’s a slightly different angle. In Who’s Your City? Richard Florida cites a survey of some 27,000 people across communities in America. 45% said their communities were either "bad" or "very bad" places for recent college graduates to live. As Florida notes, this is perplexing in a way, since, in our economy, recent college grads are a prime resource. If you have a community that is attractive to college culture, where recent grads would want to live, then you can have a well-educated workforce that might serve a creative-economy industry. Obviously there’s more to it than that, but that would seem to be one element.

Here’s another element. Cortland has a population of 18,000 or so.
The college has 7,300 students. I would estimate that close to half of
them live off-campus in the town. Cortland students may not be the
wealthiest group of students around, but I would guess they serve as a
significant source of revenue for the town. 

I suppose I’m just wondering if there’s a different way to make this
work. Even though college students come and go, college student culture
is an integral part of town life. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong
with this law. I’m sure there are plenty of instances where people get
out of control. In some sense, being young is about testing that limit.
You can’t know your limit until you pass it. As you probably saw on the
news, a number of university presidents have petitioned to lower the
drinking age with the premise that we need to treat 18 year-olds as
adults. So I know I’m not alone in seeing this general problem in the
way we perceive young adults.

What would it mean to live in a town or neighborhood that welcomed
college students and recent grads? How would you blend those young
adults with the other residents of your town? How might a town or city
be reshaped as a result? As I’ve written here before, upstate NY has
been subject to a long-term brain drain of young people. So this isn’t
just about fairness or openness or some other value. It’s about
economics and the long-term viability of the region.