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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And a student occupation is entering its third day in New York City. It's happening at Cooper Union. The school of art, architecture and engineering is famous for not charging undergraduates tuition.

As NPR's Joel Rose reports, student protesters are unhappy about what they see as threats to that tradition.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Dozens of Cooper Union students in knit hats and skinny jeans gathered outside the school's main building in the East Village to show their support for the occupiers, who waved down from the balcony of the 8th floor classroom, where they've been barricaded since Monday.

Senior Rachel Appel says the protesters are standing up for the vision of the school founder's Peter Cooper, who said education should be as free as air and water.

RACHEL APPEL: The first demand is that the college reaffirms its mission of free education to all. And I believe that's an ethical obligation that the college has maintained for over a century.

ROSE: Cooper Union has not charged tuition since 1902, thanks to a big endowment and generous alumni. But administrators say the school is facing a financial crisis, and needs to find new revenue sources.

In April, they announced a plan to add new graduate programs that will charge tuition. And protesters are concerned that the administration is thinking about charging tuition for some undergraduates, as well.

Sophomore art student Ryan Cullen says that would change the academic environment for the worse.

RYAN CULLEN: Once you charge tuition, if there is like one student who has like a really incredible portfolio, and another student who has like a little less incredible portfolio, but that student can afford to pay 38,000, they're clearly going to choose that student over someone who can't.

ROSE: In a statement, Cooper Union administrators say they've been talking to students on the ground and on the 8th floor. But they insist the 11 occupiers do not represent the majority of the school's 1000 students.

Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

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