First-Ever Tuition in Over a Century at Cooper Union

Tuition-free schools are rare, but when it comes to a free exceptional engineering education, Cooper Union in New York City’s East Village is perhaps the only school that comes to mind. If you’re one of the lucky few to be accepted, you’ve gotten your ticket to a great career. And thanks to a huge endowment, students have paid zip for tuition since 1902.

But that’s about to change. On Tuesday, in a campus-wide letter, the president said that beginning this fall the school will be charging graduate students. The school also plans to start some graduate programs, including master’s, professional and online programs, to increase revenue. For now, current undergraduate students and those starting in 2013 are guaranteed free tuition, but he could not promise that would continue to be the case.

Industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper founded the institution in 1859 with the primary intent of making education free for working-class students. Students protesting the school’s decision to charge tuition for graduate programs called attention to this mission and tradition.

There is controversy about Cooper Union’s finances and some say that the school’s management and trustees can’t be trusted. Whatever the case, the cost of higher-ed degrees has been rising at a rate faster than the inflation rate, and, while others are making worthy efforts, Cooper Union is one of the last remaining prestigious institutions that offer full merit-based scholarships. It will be sad to see that lost.

PHOTO: watz, Flickr

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