After nearly two years of intense debate and student protests, Cooper Union has announced that it will end its 155-year tradition of tuition-free education—a hallmark of the prestigious institution. The school’s board of trustees said in a statement that budget-cutting measures could not relieve the $12 million annual deficit it has on its hands. The new policy will cut the full tuition-free scholarship to 50 percent for the undergraduate class beginning in fall 2014. Depending on financial need, a student could pay nothing or up to $20,000. Industrialist Peter Cooper founded the school in 1859 on the premise of providing a first-rate, free education to the working classes.
The eleven Cooper Union students who barricaded themselves in a classroom in the school’s Foundation Building at Astor Place ended their week-long protest on Monday. The students aimed to draw attention to the school’s decision in April to charge tuition for some of its graduate programs, which, like the schools undergraduate degree programs, have been free to students thanks to an endowment established in 1902. Over the years, this has made Cooper Union one of the most desirable—and as a result, one of the most selective—schools in the country.