Five-Year Anniversary of Adoption of Plan to Return to Full-Tuition Scholarships

March 14, 2023

Dear Cooper Union,

Five years ago today, The Cooper Union Board of Trustees made the landmark decision to adopt the 10-year Plan to Return to Full-Tuition Scholarships for all undergraduate students, the outcome of two years of work formally begun in January 2016. The ambition of the Plan was clear from the outset—it would provide for full-tuition scholarships for all undergraduate students and, in doing so, require a level of fiscal discipline and fundraising not seen before at Cooper. It sought to generate $250 million over the 10 years to fund scholarships, build a financially resilient institution for the long term, invest in The Cooper Union’s world-renowned academic programs, and fund capital improvements for Cooper’s physical plant.

Now, nearly at the midway point of the Plan, we are excited to report that our progress is overwhelmingly positive and on track, having met the Plan’s cumulative financial targets over the first five years. We are achieving steady financial gains, despite the challenges of the pandemic and recent economic uncertainties; increasing scholarship levels according to the Plan; investing in and advancing our academic programs; and making capital improvements to our facilities, including new, interdisciplinary student spaces and ongoing work to address many years of deferred maintenance.

In a relatively short period of time, this critical work has enabled us to:

  • Achieve the required operating surplus to allocate toward Plan priorities for five consecutive years and be on pace for the sixth consecutive year; the surplus achieved in Fiscal Year 2018 marked the end of a decades-long operating deficit
  • Hold undergraduate tuition flat for five consecutive years – 0% increases
  • Retain a minimum 50% tuition scholarship level for every undergraduate student
  • Increase scholarship levels every year since Fiscal Year 2020 so that now, on average, 80% of tuition costs are covered for undergraduates; currently, more than 45% of students attend The Cooper Union tuition-free

Ongoing investments in our academic programs and spaces have been intentional and strategic, consistent with the Institutional Goals & Strategic Priorities developed with our community and approved by the Board in December 2018. These investments, often made possible through the generous support of Cooper Union donors, have aimed to enhance students’ creative, scientific, and cross-disciplinary experiences. They have resulted in the IDC Foundation Art, Architecture, Construction, and Engineering (AACE) Lab, now in its second full year of in-person use; the Benjamin Menschel Civic Projects Lab for cross-disciplinary collaborations in the public interest; a new photo lab in the School of Art; the Albert Nerken School of Engineering’s new Center for Student Success; expanded resources for students and faculty in the Center for Writing and Learning; revitalized Library space and programming; pedagogical and curricular innovations, including the introduction of Vertically Integrated Projects; civic contributions; and the first new academic programs in more than 10 years, including new bioengineering and computer science minors in the School of Engineering and new humanities and social sciences minors integrated into every school. When we reach our Plan objectives, we’ll not only reclaim the full-tuition scholarship commitment, but we’ll also have shaped an institution that continues to evolve to provide spectacular outcomes for our students and community.

The 2018 decision to return to full-tuition scholarships marked a historic moment for The Cooper Union, and the level of progress since then has only been possible because of the commitment of the full Cooper Union community. Alongside the positive momentum come difficult choices and sacrifices, which as an institution, we work through together. We are grateful to everyone—alumni, faculty, staff, students, donors, and partners—for sharing this ambitious vision as one and contributing to our trajectory to reach today’s significant milestone.

We are especially grateful to the Board’s prior leadership, including former Chairs Rich Lincer and Rachel Warren, as well as the Free Education Committee (FEC) of the Board of Trustees. In 2018, that committee was chaired by Robert Tan AR’81 and included Malcolm King EE’97, Julian Mayfield A’18, and Paul Nikulin CE’06, who, in tandem with previous members Student Trustee Monica Abdallah ChE’17 and the late Adrian Jovanovic BSE’89, Board and administrative leadership, were the architects of this bold plan. Current members include FEC Chair Carol Wolf A’84, Student Trustee Elias Dills AR’24, Board Chair Malcolm King EE’97, and CUAA President Robert Tan AR’81. Each year, the FEC Committee monitors our progress as does an external, independent Financial Monitor, who issues an annual report.

The work we are doing together to make this 10-Year Plan a reality is unlike that of any other college or university in the country. While the Plan seeks to restore the legacy of The Cooper Union as a free center of learning, as Peter Cooper intended, it is also tackling head-on the national crisis of staggering student debt and demonstrating that a different way forward is possible.

There are five more years ahead of us, and there is more work to do. But we are, every day, moving closer to achieving our goal together. We hope you will celebrate with us today by supporting The Cooper Union and our goal of providing a full-tuition scholarship to all undergraduates. Please join us in making this ambitious vision a reality.

With thanks for all you do for The Cooper Union,

Malcolm King EE‘97                  Carol Wolf A‘84                                    Laura Sparks                

Chair, Board of Trustees            Chair, Free Education Committee           President



  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.