New York City's Cooper Union, a college famous for offering education for free, could begin charging tuition in the face of economic uncertainty.
As The New York Times reported, it would be the first time the East Village science and art college collected tuition from undergraduate students in more than 100 years. Though Cooper Union's president, Jamshed Bharucha, said the move would only happen as a last resort, he acknowledged that the school is currently operating under a structurally unsustainable financial model.
In a statement posted on Cooper Union's website, Bharucha said the college is facing a $16.5 million deficit. He said the school must move towards a sustainable financial model which includes having a revenue model that scales to the growth of expenses and maintaining a balanced operating budget without having to sell assets or tap further into the endowment. Bharucha outlined a plan for the school's reinvention in his statement.
"The second and third elements of our reinvention must affirm Peter Cooper’s dual commitment to access and service for the public good. Access means enabling students of merit to benefit from a fine education that would otherwise be out of reach," he said. "We must always have this as a priority, regardless of how we solve our financial challenges."
He told The NYT that if Cooper Union did begin charging tuition, none of the current undergrad students would be required to pay. He also said that lower to middle-income students would mostly likely continue to attend free of charge.
The school was founded by Peter Cooper in 1859. It has historically provided an exclusive education to those who could not afford it. Cooper Union was one of the first schools to admit minorities and women. After 1902, the school stopped charging tuition and began operating on monetary gifts from Andrew Carnegie and Peter Cooper’s descendants.