The New York University School of Medicine announced on Thursday that it would cover the tuition of all its students, regardless of merit or need, citing concerns about the “overwhelming financial debt” facing graduates.
N.Y.U.’s initiative comes at a time when affordability has become an increasingly urgent issue in higher education, with some graduates struggling with thousands of dollars in debt.
To date, much of the effort has centered on helping undergraduates cover the balance of their tuition bills, including at community colleges in Tennessee, and two- and four-year schools in New York under the new Excelsior Scholarship.
In the field of medicine, schools have become worried that students saddled with steep debt are increasingly pursuing top-paying specialties rather than careers in family medicine, pediatrics and research. So it was big news in December when Columbia announced a $250 million gift from Dr. P. Roy Vagelos, an alumnus who is a former chairman of Merck & Co., and his wife, Diana, that would offer students with the greatest financial need full-tuition scholarships, and other students grants, rather than loans.
But N.Y.U.’s plan, which was announced Thursday morning in an unexpected ending to the annual “White Coat Ceremony” for new students and their families, goes beyond that, and may spur other top medical schools to follow suit. In a statement, N.Y.U. said that it would be the only top-ranked medical school in the nation to offer full-tuition scholarships to all students.
The plan, effective immediately, covers all current and future students. Annual tuition is roughly $55,000. There are 93 first-year students, and another 350 students who have up to three years left before obtaining their degrees. (A small group of new and current students who are enrolled in joint M.D./Ph.D. programs already have their tuitions paid for, thanks to the National Institutes of Health.)
The plan does not cover room and board or fees, which together are an additional $27,000, on average.
About 62 percent of N.Y.U.’s School of Medicine graduates leave with some debt; the average debt incurred by members of the class of 2017 was $184,000.
“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,” said Robert I. Grossman, dean of the medical school and chief executive officer of N.Y.U. Langone Health.
N.Y.U. said that it had raised more than $450 million of the $600 million that it anticipates will be necessary to finance the tuition plan. About $100 million of that has been contributed by Kenneth G. Langone, the founder of Home Depot, and his wife, Elaine, for whom the medical school is named.
To date, only a handful of institutions have tried to make medical education tuition-free, according to Julie Fresne, senior director of student financial services of the Association of American Medical Colleges, a nonprofit organization that represents medical schools.
At UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, a $100 million fund announced several years ago pays for the entire cost of medical school for all four years, including tuition, fees, books and living expenses for roughly 20 percent of its students. But that program is based on merit, not need.
Meanwhile, a small medical school affiliated with Case Western Reserve University at the Cleveland Clinic covers the tuition and fees for its five-year program focusing on research.
Most of the roughly 20,000 students per year enrolled in American medical schools take out sizable federal loans to support their studies. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, in 2017, the median debt for graduating medical students was $192,000. The median cost of medical school attendance, including living expenses, was $60,945 a year for public medical school and $82,278 for private medical school.
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