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Cooper Union Plans to Bring Back Free Tuition, Marking Historic Pivot

Cooper Union.

DAVID SHANKBONE/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

In 2013, the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art made the controversial decision to begin charging students tuition for the first time in more than 100 years. Following a momentous vote on Thursday, however, the New York school moved to work toward reinstating free tuition. Under the plan, the old policy would return for undergraduates by 2028, and within the next two years, the school will start increasing the amount of scholarship money available to its students.

The reinstatement of the old tuition plan, approved by a vote of the school’s board, involves behind-the-scenes financial shuffling, including cuts in expenses and increased efforts to raise funds for the school.

In a statement, the institution said, “The return to full-tuition scholarships must be aligned with a sufficient endowment and reserve to weather the financial challenges of ever-rising costs, volatile markets, and economic uncertainty. This plan is designed to accomplish that.” The school noted that fissures had developed since the previous decision to begin charging tuition fees, and that it is “still in the process of healing those divisions.”

Opening its doors to students who could not normally afford an arts education was, for years, something that distinguished Cooper Union from other schools. In the past decade, however, the school claimed various financial difficulties, due to rising costs in excess of revenue brought in each year. In 2013, it was announced that students would have to pay tuition beginning the following year. Protests followed, and Cooper Union’s president and board chair resigned amid a public outcry. For the 2017–18 school year, an undergraduate paid more than $43,000 in tuition fees.

The school’s board and president noted that the return to free tuition is a “historic turning point,” stating, “We must do all we can to create an environment in which all members of our community can thrive as we fulfill our commitment to the ideals of a free education.

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