By Carol Yost
The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art is now thinking, very slowly, about having completely free tuition again. It reckons that in about 10 years it will have accomplished this goal. Many people say that’s way too far in the future.
Peter Cooper founded the institution in 1859. He felt that it should be “open and free to all” with no exclusions whatsoever. It is divided into just three schools: architecture, art and engineering. Now a top-ranked school with an acceptance rate of less than 10%, it was one of the few academic institutions offering a free tuition to every admitted student (valued at $150,000 in 2012). It has architecturally landmarked buildings, an impressive list of world-renowned graduates, and a history of welcoming many famous speakers to its Great Hall.
In the fall of 2014, in the midst of a financial crisis, the school announced its decision to abandon the policy of free tuition, although many people would still receive considerable financial aid.
This decision was met with passionate, even tearful, protest, and the college was finally forced to reconsider. Some people thought that bad management had led to this situation; and the recent construction of 41 Park, which is an enormous “green” building full of bells and whistles but resembling nothing so much as a huge dark beetle of indeterminate species, has been partly blamed for this crisis. It is parked amongst the hapless more traditional college buildings of the old Cooper Union.
The general feeling seemed to be that it just wouldn’t be Cooper Union without free tuition for all. At one point, when it was clear that the college was determined to start charging tuition from many students, the Foundation building was completely encircled by protesters with joined hands, embracing the building in a giant “hug.” For two months, the office of the Cooper Union President was occupied by students who saw the cash tuition plan as a sellout.
Since the 10-year plan of return to free tuition, hashed out with the help of Attorney General Schneiderman, is not acceptable to many, stay tuned for (as we hope) new developments.