The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, which is one of the last tuition-free colleges in the country but has been under severe financial strain, announced on Tuesday that for the first time in more than a century it will charge undergraduates to attend.
Under the plan adopted by Cooper Union’s trustees, the prestigious college, based in the East Village, will continue need-blind admissions. But beginning in fall 2014, it will charge students based on what the college described as a steeply sliding scale, with those deemed able paying around $20,000, and many others, including those “with the greatest needs,” paying nothing. The change would not apply to undergraduates enrolled as of this fall.
“The time has come to set our institution on a path that will enable it to survive and thrive well into the future,” the board chairman, Mark Epstein, said in an announcement to students and faculty members in the college’s Great Hall. “Under the new policy, the Cooper Union will continue to adhere to the vision of Peter Cooper, who founded the institution specifically to provide a quality education to those who might not otherwise be able to afford it.”
Some students wept during the announcement; others left, declaring there was nothing more to hear. “I can’t even process this,” said Ashley Katz, 20, a second-year architecture student from California. “One of my professors came out and said, ‘Drape the whole school in black.’ ”
After the speech, opponents of the decision gathered outside the Great Hall, where Abraham Lincoln gave one of his most famous speeches, in opposition to the westward expansion of slavery, and staged what they called a walkout.
Cooper Union opened in 1859, endowed by the industrialist Peter Cooper with valuable real estate and a mission of educating working-class New Yorkers, at no cost to them. Early on, some students who could afford to pay did so, but no undergraduates have paid for more than 100 years. Along with the nation’s military academies, Cooper Union was among the only remaining schools in the United States that did not charge tuition.