The End of Free Higher Education in America?

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The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, one of the last free colleges in America, announced last week that it would begin charging tuition to undergraduate students. 

The college’s Board of Trustees voted to reduce tuition aid to 50 percent, beginning with the freshman class entering in 2014, the Huffington Post reports.

Located in New York City, Cooper Union is only one of a handful of colleges that still provides free tuition or full-tuition scholarships for its students. It is the last free college in the state.

"After eighteen months of intense analysis and vigorous debate about the future of Cooper Union, the time has come for us to set our institution on a path that will enable it to survive and thrive well into the future," the Board of Trustees said in a statement last week.

A quarter of undergraduates will still pay no tuition, but some students beginning Cooper Union in 2014 might be paying $19,000 per year. The decision to start charging undergraduate students was met with protests from the student body. These protests have lasted for about a year, and included 11 Cooper Union students locking themselves in the university’s Foundation Building for a week in December.

“It sucks on principle that these changes are happening, because everyone should have the same opportunity to go to school to learn,” says Alicia Henry, a sophomore at Millersville University studying broadcasting. “At the same time, though, it shows how it isn’t fair that there are so many people paying full tuition at other schools just to get a degree as well,” she says.

"These are what we feel will be the least damaging changes among all the other options," said Mark Epstein, chair of the Cooper Union Board of Trustees. The university had a $17 million deficit in 2011.

Cooper Union is a very selective college—it came first in Regional College North Rankings by US News & World Report and was named the “#1 Desirable School” by Newsweek in 2012. The school’s acceptance rate is around seven percent.

Cooper Union’s end to free tuition for all follows in the same pattern as nationwide tuition hikes in public and private colleges alike. “It’s kind of crazy that schools like this can’t survive here, when there are so many free or really cheap universities across Europe,” said Amanda Domuracki, a sophomore film student at Boston University.

Want to know more? Check out this video on the history of Cooper Union and its financial struggles:

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Sophomore > Journalism/Environmental Analysis > Boston University

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