Cooper Union won’t be free | East Villager & Lower East Sider

Cooper Union won’t be free

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Ending its cherished, 150-year-old tradition of free education for all, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art this week announced it will slash its full-tuition scholarships to 50 percent for all undergraduates, beginning with the class entering fall 2014.

Tuesday, at a meeting at the Great Hall, a statement by the school’s board of trustees was presented by Mark Epstein, the board’s chairperson, to the student body, faculty and staff.

“After 18 months of intense analysis and vigorous debate about the future of Cooper Union, the time has come for us to set our institution on a path that will enable it to survive and thrive well into the future,” the statement said. “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 otherwise not be able to afford it. Consequently, we will provide additional scholarship funding for those with need, including full-tuition scholarships to all Pell Grant-eligible students. We intend to keep admissions need-blind.”

Current undergraduates, plus those entering in fall 2013, will receive full-tuition scholarships for their entire undergraduate education.

“Our priorities have been and will continue to be quality and access,” Epstein continued, reading from the statement, “so that we will remain a true meritocracy of outstanding students from all socio-economic backgrounds.

“Being mostly alumni ourselves, we share your sense of the loss of this extraordinary tradition,” the trustees said of the school’s trademark, free-tuition tradition. “However, we found no viable solutions that would enable us to maintain the excellence of our programs without an alteration of our scholarship policy.”

The trustees noted the school can’t rely on the rent from the Chrysler Building to solve its long-term problems.

“Even though our rent income from the Chrysler lease is scheduled to increase dramatically in 2018-19, deficits are forecast to grow forever thereafter,” they said.

“The board also considered the possibility of downsizing the institution while maintaining our current scholarship policy. We concluded that there are no viable downsizing options that would not involve closing one or more of our three schools. … Neither can the projected $12 million annual deficit be closed through budget-cutting.”

The trustees noted that new programs proposed by the faculty are “innovative,” but will only cut about one-third of the school’s deficit.

The board said the highly selective, elite school, despite having to operate more efficiently, won’t cut the quality of its education.

The tuition debate has gripped the school for the past two years under its new president, Jamshed Bharucha, and even saw student protesters occupy the Foundation Building’s clock tower at the end of last year. After Tuesday’s announcement, about 200 students and faculty gathered outside the Foundation Building, and then, linking hands, gave it a symbolic hug.