Historic College Returns Free Tuition For Undergrads

NEW YORK (AP) -

A prestigious private college where Abraham Lincoln spoke as a presidential candidate plans to reverse course and again become tuition-free for all undergraduates.

Trustees of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art approved a plan that aims to provide full tuition scholarships to all undergraduate students in 10 years. The cost of the plan will be offset by unspecified cuts and fundraising.

Cooper Union was founded in 1859 by inventor Peter Cooper, who endowed the school to educate working-class New Yorkers without charge. Early in the school’s history, some students who could afford to pay did so, but no undergraduates paid tuition for a century.

Cooper was “not a man who engaged in empty rhetoric,” the school says on its website. “He made his school free for the working classes. He took the revolutionary step of opening the school to women as well as men. There was no color bar at Cooper Union. Cooper demanded only a willingness to learn and a commitment to excellence, and in this he manifestly succeeded.”

The school announced in 2013 that it would begin to charge tuition on a sliding scale, up to 50 percent of the annual bill, which was $43,250 this academic year. The college has 853 undergraduate students and admits 13 percent of applicants.

Mike Essl, a 1996 graduate, was a leading opponent when the school began charging tuition. He said he was so disheartened that he moved to San Francisco to become a web designer.

He was so impressed by school president Laura Sparks’s leadership that he returned to New York and is now dean of the School of Art.

“I’ve been quietly sobbing to myself all day,” he said. “Cooper Union isn’t Cooper Union unless it’s free.”