Judge asked to stop free New York college's tuition increase
NEW YORK — Students and faculty at one of the nation's few free colleges asked a judge on Friday to block the school's plan to start charging undergraduate tuition, a move the school calls a financial necessity but opponents say will alter the culture of a storied institution.
With the first set of Cooper Union tuition bills coming due, the fight is “about the whole foundation of the school,” incoming freshman Claire Kleinman said outside the hearing on a lawsuit she and other students, alumni and professors brought to try to keep the school free. A judge did not immediately rule.
Kleinman, an 18-year-old from Manhattan, worries that tuition of up to $20,000 a year could introduce debt worries.
“It creates a community that's really strong,” she said. “I'm afraid that community could change.”
Cooper trustees point to operating-fund deficits ranging from $13 million to $23 million in the last four years.
“Dire financial realities required us to make tough decisions to preserve Cooper for future generations,” spokesman Justin Harmon said in a statement. “The long-term survival of The Cooper Union was dependent on making this difficult change.”
Counting about 1,000 undergraduates, the 155-year-old school founded by industrialist Peter Cooper is renowned for its architecture, arts and engineering programs and its history. Abraham Lincoln gave his famous “right makes might” anti-slavery speech there in 1860, the NAACP held its first public meeting there in 1909, and it provided a platform for leaders of the labor movement. Alumni include Thomas Edison, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Russell Hulse, and Daniel Libeskind, the architect who designed the master plan for the rebuilt World Trade Center.
Undergraduates paid tuition before 1902, but the school became free after a gift from industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Trustees voted last year to resume charging tuition — up to $20,000, depending on students' ability to pay — beginning this fall.
The $20,000 figure represents half of the per-student cost of a Cooper education.
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