The board of trustees of Cooper Union voted on Sunday to end the school’s policy of offering a free education to all its undergraduate students, Chairman of the Board Mark Epstein announced this afternoon.
Speaking to students in the school’s historic Great Hall, Epstein said that beginning with the incoming class of 2014, the default size of students’ scholarships will be reduced from 100 percent of tuition to 50 percent.
“These are the least damaging changes among all the other options,” Epstein said. He stressed that Cooper Union’s core mission of providing an affordable top-notch education would continue. “The fact that it’s been tuition free, that’s gravy on the plate.”
Current tuition is $38,500. Admission to Cooper Union will continue to be need-blind, Epstein said, and the school will offer need-based scholarships as required. He estimated that roughly 25 percent of future students will continue to receive a full scholarship based on their financial need. The school will also offer some merit scholarships.
The announcement marks the end of a contentious period for Cooper Union, which is facing serious financial problems. The school’s board and administration blame the shortfall on the increasing cost of providing education, as well as a problematic primary revenue stream — rent for the land on which the Chrysler Building sits, which by contract only increases every 10 years. Students and faculty have said the growth of the school’s administration, as well as building projects and $10-million-a-year interest on questionable loans, are also responsible.
Resistance to the long-rumored end of free education at Cooper Union has increased steadily over the past year, culminating in a brief occupation of the top floor of the school’s main building last winter. In recent months, the board of trustees repeatedly put off making a final decision on tuition.
After announcing the board’s vote, Epstein answered questions from shocked and angry students. Some were factual: What would it have cost to have avoided reducing scholarships? ($300 to $400 million.) Others reflected the mood of the students: “Do you personally feel a sense of failure?” “Absolutely not,” Epstein said.