Brenda So (CE ’18) and Pranav Joneja (ME ’18)
On March 30th, the Engineering Student Council informed the Cooper community that the administration had decided to charge additional tuition fees. Starting from Fall 2015, current freshman or incoming students registering for more than 19.5 credits would be charged $1,200 per credit ($600 for those with half-tuition scholarship) . Immediately after the announcement, the student body erupted in outcry and made a petition to overturn the decision. The petition received 346 signatures within 48 hours of the news breaking.
ESC representative Yash Sharma (EE ’18) was one of the first people to notify the student body about the charge. He told the Pioneer after receiving the notification on Monday, “I was enraged that I had to pay for something that wasn’t advertised to me when I applied, and now I am told about this after I am trapped here.” By charging a fee for extra credits, the “affordability to take as many classes as you want” was erased. Moreover, students who had planned to earn a Master’s degree within four years were, in essence, precluded from pursuing their ambition.
As word of the new tuition policy spread, so too did the response from students. In a meeting open to all students hosted by JSC the next day, students spoke their mind. One student felt the policy “discourages interaction between schools since students would not want to pay for non-required classes”. Furthermore, specializing in a particular area of interest would become a question of whether that specialty is worth the added financial burden. Among the discussion was also the sentiment that in order to enact change, the student body needs to take “baby steps” with the administration.
The petition was one of those steps. Drafted by engineering freshmen, the petition claimed that “the sheer inanity of charging students to try their best academically, capping them a mere half credit from their requirements, has no reasonable justification, economic or otherwise”. As students assembled to discuss their views and express their frustration, the petition rapidly gained signatures. Giovanni Sanchez (ME ’18) and Jessica Marshall (EE ’17) helped to “gather signatures from art and architecture students”, while Yash gathered support from the alumni. One student leading the petition effort, Anthony Passalaqcua (ME’ 18), said that “students have the right to be pissed off – they should be”. Moving forward after this petition, however, he hopes that “we can channel this into more action to get something concrete done. We need to make sure the students know what is going on at the Cooper Union and forge open channels of communication with the administration and Board of Trustees.”
Two days after the ESC informed their constituents of the administration’s policy change, Vice President for Finance and Administration Bill Mea announced via email that the decision to charge an overload fee was being rescinded. While he did not promise that such a fee would not be considered again in the future, he emphasized he was “still learning about the culture of Cooper Union” and that all “affected constituencies [would be] included in the conversation” if such a policy were considered again in the future.
Justin Harmon, the VP for Communications of the Cooper Union, explained that the original purpose of the overloading charge was not for substantial financial profit. Instead, it was mainly used as a marginal cost to pay staff that need to work more for students who overload, as well as providing an opportunity for students to deliberate about overloading credits. From the whole issue, he told the Pioneer that there are things that are “crucial to Cooper’s culture and it’s important not to change them, but there are also habits that could be changed if it helps.” He also remarked that the way to learn about Cooper’s culture is through better communication and that people “must ask questions to know the difference.” Harmon said that currently, there are no plans in which overloading credits would be charged until the faculty and students are taken into account.