Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Did They Think That Because It Was Free, There Was Nothing Left To Lose?

The Board of Trustees at The Cooper Union announced yesterday that they will begin charging tuition for the first time in over 100 years.

The rumours had started a couple of years ago that this might happen and the reasons why reveal some of the worst of human nature - greed and arrogance are at the top of the list.  And like so many other stories, the big wigs who made the poor, misguided decisions will pass along the consequences to those who least are able to pay.

A very good piece about why this is such a sad thing is here.  ETA:  Here is a very good history of the school, how it came to be tuition-free and how it got into its current financial mess.

I have heard people tell me to quit my belly aching and get real - everyone else who went to college had to pay tuition.  But, like the author describes in the linked post, I was able to take lousy, low paying (but flexible) jobs that allowed me to continue to make my artwork instead of needing to make money at all costs because I had huge student loans to pay off.  This is no small thing!  In fact, my student loans were paid off two years after leaving Cooper from my savings as a waitress and a worker in a group home in Rhode Island.  This should not be taken lightly!  When I look at where many of my fellow classmates from Cooper are at this point in our lives, it is shocking how many of us are still making art so many years later.  We have defied the odds.  Big time.

So maybe there was something to the tuition-free idea that goes beyond simply having a nice go of it as an undergrad.  And here I have to note that I still had to pay NYC rent as a student, along with food, materials, etc..  My family had no means to support me and I was as poor as I ever was during those years - buying orange juice was a rare luxury.  I even received some financial aid from Cooper during those years, remarkable as that might sound.

It is a sad day, not just for Cooper and its community.  Not just for the city, whose texture has changed so much that being a young artist here is nearly impossible, but for our society as a whole.  Tuition-free meant many things...only some of them were related to money.  We are all losing something here and we have no idea just how much.

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