Aug. 20, 2018 -- The New York University School of Medicine says it will offer free tuition to all current and future students regardless of need or merit, making it the largest and highest-ranked medical school to make such an offer.
NYU officials said they made the decision in the hopes of attracting a more diverse group of students who will no longer have to fear that medical school is out of reach because they would owe a mountain of debt from student loans. The debt load has also pushed some graduates away from less lucrative fields -- such as primary care, obstetrics, and gynecology -- toward higher-paying specialties.
"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," Robert I. Grossman, MD, the Saul J. Farber dean and CEO of NYU Langone Health, says in a statement.
"We believe that with our tuition-free initiative, we have taken a necessary, rational step that addresses a critical need to train the most talented physicians, unencumbered by crushing debt," he says. "We hope that many other academic medical centers will soon choose to join us on this path."
Debt is not the only thing that influences whether someone applies to medical school or, ultimately, what specialty they choose, but it is something NYU can control, says Rafael Rivera, MD, associate dean for admissions and financial aid. "Even anticipated debt loads can add to the anxiety a medical student feels throughout their training," he says.
Julie Fresne, senior director of student financial services and debt management at the Association of American Medical Colleges, said she thinks the tuition-free offer will entice more students to apply who otherwise would not have. Students who take the Medical College Admission Test and then do not go on to apply to a school cite lack of academics and cost as the two biggest reasons, Fresne tells Medscape Medical News.
Often, those who are discouraged because of cost are those from historically underrepresented backgrounds in medicine and tend to come from lower social and economic circumstances, she says.
The NYU statement cited data from the Association of American Medical Colleges, which has found that 75% of all American doctors graduated with debt in 2017. The median cost of medical education at a private medical school is $59,605 per year, and the median current debt of a graduating student is $202,000. About a fifth of doctors graduating from a private school leave with a debt of more than $300,000, says NYU.
The cost of a year's tuition at NYU is $55,018. Students will still have to cover their living costs, which, at the NYU-subsidized rate and including health insurance, would run about $28,000 a year, Rivera says
NYU says it is the only top 10-ranked medical school in the nation to offer free tuition. Other medical schools now have or have recently launched similar programs.
The University of Houston's new College of Medicine announced in July that all 30 medical students in its inaugural class will receive free tuition when the school opens in the fall of 2020, thanks to an anonymous $3 million gift.
In December 2017, the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons -- through a gift from alumni and former Merck CEO Roy Vagelos, MD -- announced that it would cover tuition for all students who qualify for financial aid and who get student loans. The scholarship would replace the student loans. Columbia estimated that 20% of its students will get full-tuition scholarships.
The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA also offers full, merit-based free tuition, room and board, books, and supplies, as well as a stipend. Students who remain in good standing keep the scholarship through all 4 years of their enrollment. The school estimates that 20% (or 33 students) of each entering class qualify. The program was endowed with $100 million by benefactor David Geffen in 2012.
In 2008, the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University announced that it would pay full tuition for students who enter its 5-year specialized program.