An estimated 20,000 students are enrolled in American medical schools on a yearly basis. Almost all of them have to take out large federal loans as means to finance their studies. In fact, the Association of American Medical Colleges reports that medical students graduate with a median debt of $192,000. The yearly median price of attendance alone, including living expenses was a little over $60,000 for public medical school students and a little over $82,000 for medical students attending private institutions. Given these statistics and some graduates facing financial struggles due to thousands of dollars of debt, it comes as no surprise that affordability of medical education and training has become an increasingly urgent issue in higher education.
Expressing concerns about the “overwhelming financial debt” burdening graduates, the New York University School of Medicine has announced recently that it has decided to cover all of its students’ tuition – roughly $55,000 annually – irrespective of merit or need. An estimated 62 percent of its graduates matriculate with some debt, while embers of the class of 2017 had incurred an average of $184,000.
According to NYU, it would be the nation’s only top-ranked medical school offering full rides to all of their students. The plan is effective immediately, and it affects all current as well as future students. This includes every one of the 93 first-year students in addition to the 350 who are already enrolled and have up to three years left until graduation. The exception is a small number of students who are pursuing a joint M.D./Ph.D. degree which is paid for by the National Institutes of Health.
According to Robert I. Grossman, the dean of the medical school and chief executive officer of NYU Langone Health, “This decision recognizes a moral imperative that must be addressed, as institutions place an increasing debt burden on young people who aspire to become physicians.”
NYU reports having raised the majority of the $600 million that it prognosticates will be needed to take care of the tuition plan. Kenneth G. Langone, for whom the school is named and who is the founder of Home Depot, and his wife, Elaine, have contributed about $100 million to NYU’s total. Another contributor is Dr. Jacob Gottlieb, former co-founder of Visum Asset Management, CEO and founder of Altium Capital, a boutique hedge fund specializing in small growth healthcare companies. He obtained his medical doctorate at NYU Medical School.
The school’s coverage plan does not take care of the room and board fees, however, that sum up to an average of $27,000. The school has also announced an unexpected ending of the annual and traditional “White Coat Ceremony” for incoming students and their families.
This kind of effort to ameliorate student debt following graduation has so far only been seen in attempts to help undergraduates face their high tuition bills at institutions such as community colleges in Tennessee as well as two- and four- year institutions in New York under the new Excelsior Scholarship that has significantly cut the financial burden of New York’s families due to education expenses. This also comes after Columbia University’s fairly recent announcement that it had received a $250 million gift from its alum, Dr. P. Roy Vagelos, who is also a former chairman of Merck & Co. and his wife, Diana. The donation enables Columbia to offer students with the greatest financial need full-tuition scholarships and other students grants. That way, the school is avoiding having its students take out loans they would be burdened with after graduation.
Julie Fresne, senior director of student financial services of the Association of American Medical Colleges, a nonprofit organization that represents medical schools, comments that only a few schools so far have attempted to ease medical students’ financial burdens and make their education tuition-free. Along those lines, UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine’s fund of $100 million covers full tuition of about 20 percent of its students. The program, covering the entire cost of medical school for all four years as well as fees, books and living expenses, is based on merit rather than need. Another example is a small medical school affiliated with Case Western Reserve University at the Cleveland Clinic. There, tuition of students that are enrolled in its five-year program focusing on research is fully covered.
Overall, high tuition costs are discouraging to those who would otherwise want to pursue a medical education but have no means to finance it. Furthermore, efforts to ease the financial burdens of future doctors also comes at a time when medical schools are increasingly worried that a high financial burden after graduation will result in students’ pursuits of top-paying specialties rather than careers in other fields such as family medicine, pediatrics and research. Ultimately, the health care system can be improved with a larger pool of competent primary care doctors that can ensure that their patients receive the specialty care they need.