Cooper Union, Free for 150 Years, Will Start Charging Graduate Students Tuition

Cooper Union, Free for 150 Years, Will Start Charging Graduate Students Tuition
(Courtesy Ron Diel via Flickr)

Since its founding in 1859 the Cooper Union, a university in New York City's East Village, has given every student admitted to the super-competitive school of art, architecture, and engineering full scholarships. No more: Today its president, Jamshed Bharucha, announced that beginning in 2013 graduate students will have to pay tuition. The announcement confirms the fears of students and alumni of the prestigious university — some of whom have recently staged protests, released prank press announcements, and even staged an Orwellian musical parody of the school's financial woes — who see the decision as a brazen violation of the principles on which the school was founded.

"This hybrid model is exciting because it gives us a chance to do new things, and not just hunker down,” Bharucha told the New York Times. He admitted, however, that there "are risks for this strategy, and there are those who worry if it will work."

The price of tuition for graduate students enrolling for courses in the fall of 2013 has yet to be determined, but it will not be sufficient to cover the massive financial gap that the school is seeking to close. Bharucha said that while undergraduates who start classes in 2013 will not have to pay tuition at any time during their four year careers at Cooper, the school's administration isn't ruling out charging undergraduate tuition one day.

Accompanying the new tuition fees will be expanded degree programs debuting in 2013, including a combined design and technology graduate track, and online courses to boost enrollment. The school currently has 100 graduate students pursuing master's degrees in architecture and engineering.

Last year, shortly after taking office as the elite school's president, Bharucha announced that it would have to reduce its annual operating costs by some $20 million before 2018. The new graduate tuition fees will "gets us a good distance toward this target," he said. The university has instituted a hiring freeze and imposed major funding cuts, and next year it will slash its operating budget by another seven percent.

Meanwhile, the Times points out, a push in fundraising has increased alumni contributions by about one third, and current students have launched a donation drive of their own. The year by which Bharucha aims to reach his operating costs reduction goal coincides with a major funding boost: In 2018 the annual rent the school receives for the land it owns beneath the Chrysler Building will jump from $7 million to $32.5 million.

Nevertheless, Bharucha made no promises about the future of tuition-free undergraduate studies at the Cooper Union.