Cooper Union Sets Example With Free Tuition


Beth Sattur, Staff Writer

Take note, New York City colleges.

In 2014, Cooper Union, which previously offered free tuition, made the decision to begin charging a whopping $43,250 per year. (For reference, NYU’s yearly tuition for the College of Arts and Science is $50,464.) However, four years later, it has made the choice to reinstate the free tuition over the course of the next 10 years. Much of the decision was born out of protest by students about the onset of tuition, some of whom even attempted to file a lawsuit in 2014 to prevent tuition charges. Cooper Union will soon join the short list of 12 schools in the United States with this offer. Other New York City colleges and universities should aim to follow suit.

In two years, the college will begin increasing scholarships and developing several ambitious savings programs to help generate $250 million over the next decade. These include: increasing building and facility rentals, which is often cheaper than purchasing; fundraising by 25 percent every year over a period of five years; and funding for necessary expenses.

Cooper Union, a private institution, often debunks one of the myths that private schools either can’t or shouldn’t provide significant financial aid packages to students. Former U.S. presidential candidate and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) plan for free college included the provision that only public colleges would be free.

NYU’s budget for the 2018 year was just shy of $12 billion. Of that, around $3.2 billion — about a quarter of the budget — was delegated among the university’s three degree-granting campuses and global sites. The School of Medicine and NYU Langone receive the other 73 percent of the budget. To provide free tuition for NYU’s 26,135 undergraduate students using the CAS tuition for context, it would cost a little over $1.3 billion, or one-third of the university’s budget. That is about five times as much as Cooper Union’s goal amount of $250 million, but there are several options available to make it work. For example, extending the project to span over the course of 50 years instead of 10. Stanford University, for example, offers free tuition for students whose families earning and having financial assets under $125,000 per year, and NYU could institute a similar policy. Since NYU has spent $500 million on expanding in Brooklyn and $1.29 billion on the 23-story superstructure to replace the former Coles Sports Center, the university clearly shows its ability to spend large sums of money. NYU should put its next check toward drastically reducing the cost of college or even making it free.

Cooper Union sits in a prime location in the East Village only blocks away from NYU. A common defense of NYU’s expense is its location, but Cooper Union’s location and tuition plans challenge that. NYU should adopt some of the policies that Cooper Union has, which include renting more buildings, increasing its fundraising and scholarships and focusing more on funding necessary expenses.

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Email Beth Sattur at [email protected].