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The Cooper Union was founded in 1859 by industrialist, inventor and philanthropist Peter Cooper in New York City. Acutely aware of his own lack of a formal education, Cooper's lifelong dream was to create an institution that would provide free instruction to ambitious young men and women.

Today we celebrate Cooper Union for its unique mission to provide full-tuition, merit-based scholarships to all enrolled students, and for the lifetime of creative and intellectual mobility that the full-tuition policy enables. Students graduate from Cooper Union unburdened by significant student debt, allowing them an important measure of financial freedom to continue to innovate, create and learn after graduation. In this moment where national student debt has surpassed $1 trillion, Cooper's full scholarship policy is more important than ever.

Yet Cooper Union provides more than solely financial assistance. By the same token that Cooper students graduate unburdened by excessive debt, a Cooper education also has the power to release students from any insecurities or prejudices they might have about who in our society is permitted to create and innovate, whose contribution is valued and what opportunities might lie ahead. Because no amount of wealth, privilege or influence determines who attends Cooper Union, students from wildly different walks of life are able to teach and learn from one another trusting that all hold in common the resource most valued by the institution: ability.

At the heart of the school's mission and imbued in its ethos is the ever-more-radical notion that neither money nor politics should be decisive in determining the cultural and intellectual life of a city or a people, much less the imaginative life of an individual. Yet now Cooper Union finds itself in a crisis where money seems to govern the future and imaginations are threatening to fail: the trustees are considering abandoning the historic mission of full-tuition scholarships and meritbased admissions altogether in favor of a conventional, tuition-based financial model that will irrevocably change the character of the school.

In the meantime, Cooper students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends have come together to imagine alternatives. Since the President's announcement in October 2011 that Cooper Union may charge tuition, we have been working tirelessly to understand the nature of the challenges Cooper faces, and to come up with viable immediate and long-term solutions. Cooper Union is bigger than a building. It embodies an ideal we hold dear to our democracy. It is unconscionable that we should allow that ideal to be destroyed without imagining every possible alternative.

So how are we going to save Cooper Union? Because the root of this crisis is not only financial, we have come up with ways to improve Cooper's civic presence, academics and mission. Despite having limited access to the numbers, we have identified what we believe to be sensible first steps toward closing the deficit. Finally, during the long, fraught and sometimes tedious process of mapping out what seems to us the right and just path for Cooper Union in the coming months and years, we've discovered what is perhaps the most crucial element to Cooper's survival: a sense of community that transcends disciplines, reaches across generations, and, in this moment of confusion, has the vision and spirit to point Cooper Union in the right direction.

We are the Cooper community and this is The Way Forward.



  • The nearly complete list of community ideas that fed into The Way Forward can be found in The Matrix