NYC college offers free tuition

March 5, 2009 3:53:51 PM PST
The economy is taking a toll on some of the nation's leading colleges. They've lost hundreds of millions from endowments invested in stocks. And we know millions of students worry they can't afford college. But one elite college in New York, endowed by investments that are reliable, has never charged tuition.

"You feel like you've been handed a gift and that you really need to appreciate it," architecture student Daphne Binder said.

Binder and her fellow students overcame heavy competition for acceptance to the tuition-free Cooper Union.

"It really makes it easier to come here and just learn and not worry about where the money is coming from," engineering student Dennis Robertson said.

The 150-year-old Cooper Union was founded as a tuition-free college, specializing in science, engineering, architecture and the arts. There are just over 1,000 students. If they paid tuition, it would be worth $33,000 a year.

"The key difference between Cooper Union and other institutions is that we have an independent source of revenue that is not based on investing in anomalies, and that is a business," Cooper Union president Dr. George Campbell, Jr., said.

The business is millions of dollars in real estate. Cooper Union owns Midtown's landmark Chrysler Building. A new academic building, on Cooper Union property, will replace a classroom facility, which will be torn down. The land will be leased for commercial use, meaning more income.

Students are responsible for their own housing, books and supplies. They can apply for financial aid to take care of those necessities, but they do not have to worry about the kinds of six-figure student loans being faced by some of their friends who go to school elsewhere.

"All the students here really want to be here," art student Devin Kenny said.

Cooper Union has seen a sharp increase in applications this year, apparently because of the economy. Fewer that 8 percent will accepted from thousands of applicants. Dr. Campbell feels other colleges could benefit from taking a business approach.

"It may not be real estate," he said. "It may be a spinoff of some of the research activities, and many colleges, of course, are."

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WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King


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