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March 16, 2018

Cooper Union Announces Plan to Reinstate Free Tuition

NEW YORK—The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science Art announced Thursday that it would reinstate free tuition. A plan approved by the Cooper Union board of trustees’ Free Education Committee allows for partial tuition scholarships for all students to increase in two years and full scholarships in ten. The plan also calls for the school to $250 million in new resources, including $150 million in fundraising. David W. Chen reports for the New York Times that tuition scholarships would be provided for by cuts in expenses and “other revenue increases necessary.”

“If we exceed the financial targets in any given year, we may be able to accelerate the plan; if we don’t meet the targets for any number of reasons, such as an economic downturn, we have built-in guardrails that allow us to slow the plan if necessary,” said Cooper Union president Laura Sparks. A plan would not include dorm rates and other costs of study as revenue sources.

In 2013, Cooper Union announced it would discontinue its 150-year policy of providing full tuition scholarships after years of financial mismanagement. Students were then charged on a sliding scale up to fifty-percent of the annual tuition. In response, a coalition of students, instructors, and alumni formed The Committee to Save Cooper Union. A lawsuit filed by the Committee forced the ouster of former president Jamshed Bharucha in 2015.

Tuition implementation resulted in a decrease in applications; Cooper Union admits around thirteen percent of applicants and enrolls 853 in its schools of art, engineering, and social sciences. Tuition for the 2017–18 academic year was set at $43,250.

Sparks was appointed president in January 2017. In December 2017, Mike Essl, an instructor and alumnus and a prominent voice behind The Committee to Save Cooper Union was named dean of the School of Art. “I’ve been quietly sobbing to myself all day,” Essl said. “Cooper Union isn’t Cooper Union unless it’s free. I wouldn’t be this optimistic if I didn’t see progress.”

Other faculty and alumni were less enthusiastic with the new plan and its ambitious fundraising goals. In an email to artnet News, Walid Raad wrote the decision was “disappointing but expected” and that the plan still burdens “two thousand current and future students to a $60 million bill. I am not certain what or who is being freed in this instance. Now and in the future.”

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