EAST VILLAGE — For many freshmen, Cooper Union’s new $19,800 yearly price tag didn’t deter them from enrolling.
In fact, many said it encouraged them to go, even though the school had offered its prestigious programs in art, architecture and engineering for free for more than 100 years.
“One of the main reasons I came here was because of the tuition,” said Mateen Nemati, 18, an electrical engineering major from Toms River, N.J., on the first day of classes Tuesday.
“Most other schools don’t really give you much scholarship money. [Cooper Union] pays half and it’s a really good school, so why not choose this over another school?”
Other freshmen echoed Nemati’s sentiments, saying that Cooper Union was often the cheapest option. While they wished tuition was still free, the school’s relatively low cost of attendance, coupled with the school’s strong academics, was too good of a deal to pass up, students said.
Controversy has surrounded Cooper Union’s decision to charge tuition, which went into effect this semester with the class of 2018. Since 1902, the school has offered its programs for free, according to the school’s press office, but in April 2013 it decided to give future students half, instead of full, scholarships.
But not all students reacted to the change positively.
“I guess we’re happy that we’re not paying $40,000 — we’re paying $20,000 — but on the other hand, I still think the idea of the school when it was set up was to be a free school,” said Dewan Thenmalai, an electrical engineering major from Scarsdale, N.Y.
India Armstrong, an art major, called the decision to charge tuition “a step in the wrong direction.”
“It’s very disappointing to actually have to pay tuition to an institution that has been free for the longest time,” said Armstrong, 18, who is from Chicago.
Cooper Union has said the change was a response to difficult financial times in the past few years. The college also noted that it provides scholarships and financial aid for students in need.
According to its press office, Pell Grant-eligible students make up 22.4 percent of the incoming class, an increase of the 17 to 20 percent of previous classes.
However, opponents argue that the move goes against founder Peter Cooper’s vision to make the school “open and free to all.” The school’s fiscal issues, they claim, stem from mismanagement by Cooper Union’s Board of Trustees.
The Committee to Save Cooper Union, a group of alumni, faculty and students who are against charging tuition, took the school to court in May. The case is ongoing.