Students, alumni and faculty of Cooper Union are fighting to stop the school from charging tuition for the first time in more than 100 years.
Both sides faced off in New York Supreme Court Friday, while proponents of keeping the school free rallied outside.
They argue that the school's charter and a tax exemption given to it in the early 1900s require Cooper Union to remain free.
"We think that the tuition model will severely damage the quality of the student body of Cooper Union, as well as the institution," said state Senator Brad Holyman of Manhattan.
"It connects loss and debt with learning," said Clare Kleinman, a member of the Cooper Union Class of 2018.
"So really, we're talking about free education to all everywhere, but Cooper is kind of a beacon in that struggle," said Casey Gollan, a Cooper Union alumnus.
The Board of Trustees said its recent vote to charge tuition was necessary to save the school.
A statement read, in part, "No one associated with Cooper wanted to change a tradition as valued as the full-tuition scholarship, but dire financial realities required us to make tough decisions to preserve Cooper for future generations. The long term survival of The Cooper Union was dependent on making this difficult change."