Cooper Board Approves Plan to Return to Full-Tuition Scholarships

Statement from Board and President on Plan to Return to Full-Tuition Scholarships

March 15, 2018

The Cooper Union’s Legacy and Future

The Cooper Union’s Board of Trustees and Office of the President are pleased and proud to announce the Board’s approval of a comprehensive plan to return to full-tuition scholarships (printable version) for all undergraduate students. This marks a historic turning point. With the adoption of this plan, the Board has declared its unequivocal commitment to returning to free.

The final plan is a modified version of the recommendation published on January 15, 2018 by the Board’s Free Education Committee (FEC). It is the result of well over a year of intensive discussions, analysis, and deliberations. The planning process solicited and considered diverse perspectives and extensive feedback offered by the community in person, writing, calls, and emails. That input and feedback affected the outcome. We thank you.

Consistent with the FEC’s recommendation, the approved plan:

  • Increases scholarships beginning in two years, provided we meet critical fundraising, operating expense, and operating cash surplus goals.
  • Returns The Cooper Union to full-tuition scholarships for all undergraduate students in 10 years.
  • Seeks to generate $250 million over the 10-year timeline to bolster the institution's financial resilience and invest in its world-renowned academic programs.

The Board modified the FEC’s Recommended Plan as follows:

  • Cooper Union will not raise the current residence hall cost to students, other than the usual, annual inflationary increases (approximately 3%).
  • Cooper Union will defer all proposed graduate scholarship reductions until FY2020 and then phase in the proposed reductions over the next five years with close attention paid to improving the quality of the academic programs.
  • The Board will discuss whether to move forward in developing a pricing strategy to bring the Stuyvesant-Fish House to market.
  • The Board and Administration commit to a rigorous assessment of The Cooper Union’s reputation for academic quality and the impact of tuition on it. The Board will consider the findings in the context of the plan to return to full-tuition scholarships.

In its independent assessment, the Financial Monitor, appointed by the New York State Office of the Attorney General, called the plan “responsible and aggressive.” We believe it is an ambitious and achievable path – one that interlinks a sustainable return to full-tuition scholarships with building long-term financial health and investing in our academic programs. This is intentional – a return to free only matters if The Cooper Union has the financial wherewithal to sustain it and if our academic programs remain exceptional.

It’s important to note that all of the work and careful consideration around a return to full-tuition scholarships is a key pillar in a broader strategic planning effort. Over the last 12 months, we have been examining our strengths and challenges and laying the foundation for a strategic plan in furtherance of our recently adopted Vision and Mission statements. The development and approval of a long-term financial plan was a critical and necessary first step, and it has paved the way for advancing our mission “to sustain The Cooper Union as a free center of learning and civic discourse that inspires inventive, creative, and influential voices in architecture, art, and engineering to address the critical challenges and opportunities of our time.”

While more than 159 years have passed since Peter Cooper first opened these doors, the commitment to the ideal that education be “as free as air and water” remains central to the essence and identity of this institution. It fuels the academic exploration and innovation of our students who, relieved of financial burdens, inspire change and solutions in service of a better world.

Learning from Our Past

The Trustees, a majority of whom are alumni, understand that the decision to begin charging tuition in 2014 deeply fractured the community. We are still in the process of healing those divisions. We cannot erase the past, but we must learn from it. The Board bears responsibility for strategic and financial oversight of the school. We know we must do better.

The return to full-tuition scholarships must be aligned with a sufficient endowment and reserve to weather the financial challenges of ever-rising costs, volatile markets, and economic uncertainty. This plan is designed to accomplish that.

We also know that being free goes far beyond the finances and sustainability of free tuition. It is a culture, a way of life, a commitment to free thinking, free discourse, free expression. It is an equalizing force that opens the door for people from all walks of life – regardless of ethnicity, gender, race, religion, or status – to delve deeply into the pursuits of their own choosing, defined only by their ideas, dreams, potential, and work ethic. And, importantly, it means creating space for different and dissenting views to be heard and to inform a path forward.

The Cooper Union’s greatest treasure is our students; they inspire us every day. Cooper Union’s greatest point of pride is our alumni, who have literally changed the world. In committing to return to free, we celebrate them, we honor them, and we carry their legacy forward for future generations. Our faculty, staff, administration, friends, and supporters are the lifeblood of the school. Nothing can happen without them. We must do all we can to create an environment in which all members of our community can thrive as we fulfill our commitment to the ideals of a free education.

The Path Forward

The plan approved by the Board requires a level of fiscal discipline and fundraising not seen before at The Cooper Union. Our ability to restore full-tuition scholarships for all undergraduate students will require an unparalleled collaboration of the Cooper community working together with urgency and common purpose. It requires commitment and contributions from within and expanding our community to include new partners and friends. This commitment begins with the Board, and all Trustees have pledged to lead Cooper’s philanthropic efforts with both personal annual gifts and relationship-building with new and renewed contributors.

We are excited and inspired by the challenge – and by the momentum we are already seeing. Throughout this past year, we have seen new and returning supporters step forward to advance The Cooper Union’s future. The swift completion of the Irma Giustino Weiss Challenge, which generated $4 million in new gifts to match the $4 million donated by the estate of Irma Weiss (Art ’45), was achieved in just four months. Irma’s Challenge inspired more than 1,100 people to give, including 206 new donors, 582 returning donors who had not given the previous year, and 418 increased gifts over prior year. In 2017, the number of our institutional funders increased from 17 to 24. Fiscal year-to-date, we are nearly $1 million ahead of where we were this time last year with respect to cash contributions received. We have so much more to do, but we are already gaining momentum.

In closing, we want to express our gratitude to the FEC – Committee Chair Robert Tan; current and former Committee Members Monica Abdallah, the late Adrian Jovanovic, Malcolm King, Julian Mayfield, and Paul Nikulin; and Observers Atina Grossmann and Amy Westphal – for their tireless work. We understand that no single plan can fully satisfy the many differing views on the many issues related to a return to full-tuition scholarships. However, in order to make meaningful progress toward free tuition – a commitment that, as a Board, we wholeheartedly support – we must get started, and the approved plan provides a solid framework to do so. This work, this project of returning to free, is not just an assignment or an item on Board meeting agendas. It is work that we, like so many of you, are deeply passionate about. It is a mission that is clear and unequivocal, and it carries no less consequence than ensuring that the vision of a philanthropist and industrialist who was generations ahead of his time be restored, revitalized, and made relevant for the good of generations to come.

  • 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.