New York's attorney general announced an agreement Wednesday that would end a lawsuit against Cooper Union and create an independent monitor into the financial management of the college known for its architecture, arts and engineering programs.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said he hopes the deal eventually could lead to the school restoring free tuition.
The Manhattan college began charging tuition in 2014 for the first time in more than a century to avoid financial insolvency. That sparked a lawsuit by the Committee to Save Cooper Union, an alliance of students, alumni and faculty.
The agreement was reached with the school's board of trustees and the plaintiffs. They filed a consent decree Wednesday that requires court approval.
Adrian Jovanovic, president of the committee, said the settlement "implements significant reforms and creates a path to restoring Peter Cooper's vision of education 'open and free to all.'"
It would authorize the attorney general to appoint the monitor. It would add alumni, students and faculty to the board of trustees and establish a standing committee to develop a strategic plan aimed at returning to a tuition-free policy while maintaining academic reputation and enrollment.
Richard Lincer, chairman of The Cooper Union Board of Trustees, said they hope the framework will enable them to build support "to sustain the strengths of this great institution for future generations of students."
According to the attorney general's office, an investigation began last year that showed the school's current financial problems were rooted in the failure of its 2006 plan to finance a new academic building by taking a $175 million mortgage on other property and investing and losing $35 million in stocks.
"My office will ensure all sides work together to put Cooper Union back on a path to fiscal sustainability," said Schneiderman, whose office has oversight of New York's nonprofits.
The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art was founded in 1859 by industrialist Peter Cooper to give talented young people a good education "open and free to all," and discrimination based on ethnicity, religion or sex was prohibited. Its rich history rivals the traditions of better-known colleges with sprawling campuses and football teams: Abraham Lincoln gave his "right makes might" anti-slavery speech at Cooper in 1860, Thomas Edison took classes there, the NAACP held its first public meeting there in 1909 and President Barack Obama spoke there in 2010.