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Cooper Union Tuition Hike Killed After Student Protest Petition

 Cooper Union students staged a sit-in inside the president's office to protest the school's initial decision to charge tuition for the first time on May 9, 2013.
Cooper Union students staged a sit-in inside the president's office to protest the school's initial decision to charge tuition for the first time on May 9, 2013.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

EAST VILLAGE — Cooper Union students received a late-night email Monday notifying them of a tuition hike, but by Wednesday the school scrapped the plan after opposition from students, DNAinfo New York has learned.

Students said they were informed at the beginning of the week that the school would add an "overload charge" to people taking more than 19.5 credits in a semester.

They stayed up into the early morning hours strategizing, and by Tuesday night, they had gathered more than 250 signatures on a petition to reverse the decision and to remove the university's president, Jamshed Bharucha, from consideration for contract renewal.

In a school-wide memo issued Wednesday afternoon, the school's vice president for finance said the students' swift, urgent response taught him about "the culture of Cooper Union."

"Having seen yesterday’s reaction to the overload charge, I can say that I am still learning about the culture of Cooper Union," wrote Vice President for Finance and Administration Bill Mea, who joined the school's administration in September. "I value our unique character and I wish to honor it."

The school only started charging tuition this academic year, after 100 years of being completely free, and Cooper Union still offers scholarships to every student that cover half of the $40,000 yearly tuition.

But Abdullah Siddiki, a freshman electrical engineering student, said a student council representative informed him and his classmates by email late Monday night that the school will be charging extra per credit for classes taken after 19.5 credits per semester.

"For so many years, the Cooper Union was a place for brilliant minds to achieve to any caliber that they desired, regardless of their income," Siddiki said. "The students believe that we are being stripped of what we believe the Cooper Union stands for, and as a result [we] are taking action."

Individual courses at the college range from 1.5 credits to 4 credits. Students in different majors are expected to take different numbers of classes: Architecture undergrads, for example, typically take 18 credits each semester of their freshman year, while engineering undergrads typically take 18 or 19 per semester for their first and second years.

The school charges per semester rather than per course, and students pay roughly $20,000 or a little less per semester, depending on when they enrolled in the school. That's roughly $1,000 per credit.

Students said they were told under the new policy, each additional credit after 19.5 would cost $1,200.

"I saw this tution and fees schedule as 'normal' for higher education institutions and thus thought implementing it would be a normal course of operations," Mea said in his memo.

But the students' response convinced him otherwise, Mea wrote.

"This is certainly not the time to implement such a policy, and it may never be the right time to do so," Mea wrote. "I cannot promise that this will never be implemented, since such policies can help refine the balance between actual course enrollments and the resources needed to accommodate them.

"But if such a policy change is considered in the future," Mea added, "I will ensure all affected constitutencies are included in that conversation."