In New York City, Cooper Union is looking to reinstate free tuition but must raise $250 million in 10 years to meet that goal.
As the cost of attending college continues to increase, it’s uncommon to hear about schools that are lowering tuition costs. But that’s exactly what Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art plans to do.
Cooper Union is a private college located in New York City. Established in 1859, the school offered free tuition for undergraduate students for over a century. Undergraduate students were given scholarships that covered 100 percent of their tuition, part of Cooper Union’s promise that college is "as free as air and water."
Then in a controversial 2014 decision, the college chose to dial back on undergraduate scholarships, choosing instead to start offering half-tuition scholarships. Laura Sparks, President of Cooper Union, told CNBC that full scholarships stopped being financially feasible for the school. She added, "The board made a decision that it felt was necessary to the future viability of the school."
Currently, the average student receives enough in scholarships to cover 76 percent of their tuition costs. Cooper Union has 853 undergraduate students and only admits 13 percent of its applicants, according to The New York Times. Tuition was $43,250 for the previous school year.
The decision received quite a bit of pushback from the community, which caused enrollment to drop. So last spring, the board approved a new plan to reinstate full-tuition scholarships for undergraduate students. However, the school must raise $250 million to meet its goal, hence the 10-year timeline.
But Sparks told CNBC it’s important to the board that Cooper Union reinstates free tuition for all undergraduate students. She hopes that the school will be able to exceed its financial targets and implement the plan sooner.
Student loan debt is a growing problem in America so for many families, it’s more important than ever to find an affordable college. Colleges that offer free or reduced tuition like Cooper Union are in the minority but they do exist.
Alice Lloyd College, a small school in Kentucky, offers free tuition to residents in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. These students agree to do community service jobs through the school’s student work program.
Full-time students at the College of the Ozarks in Missouri earn free tuition as well. Students agree to work 15 hours per week during the school year and one 40-hour week during each semester break. This school doesn’t participate in federal or private loan programs, but students can apply Pell Grants to cover any additional costs.
Students that are interested in finding a school that offers free tuition should do their homework first. There are usually restrictions; for instance, many of these schools have an income threshold or require on-campus work. And students should always check the school’s rankings and the quality of their programs.