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September 25, 2018

Don't expect Harvard Medical School to hop on the tuition-free bandwagon

Daily Briefing

    NYU's School of Medicine made headlines last month when it announced full-tuition scholarships for all medical students, but Harvard Medical School officials said they don't plan on adopting a similar initiative.

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    NYU goes tuition-free

    NYU plans to cover the full cost of tuition for all its current and future medical students. The scholarships—which do not include room, board, or living expenses—will be offered to medical students regardless of financial need or academic merit.

    Tuition for the upcoming academic year had been set at $55,018. Sixty-two percent of NYU School of Medicine's most recent graduating class had student loan debt, which averaged $171,908 in student loan debt for medical school and $184,000 in overall student loan debt.

    "This is going to be a huge game-changer for us, for our students and for our patients," said Rafael Rivera, associate dean for admission and financial aid for NYU's School of Medicine. "There's really a moral imperative to reduce the amount of debt people have."

    Why Harvard won't offer free tuition

    In a letter to students, Harvard Medical School Dean George Daley criticized the move toward tuition-free medical school, saying the move diverts financial aid to "students with ample means to pay for their education, often those who already enjoy considerable socioeconomic advantages."

    While "some schools have abandoned the principle of need-based scholarship," Daley wrote, Harvard plans to bolster its financial aid efforts. He noted that with the current tuition plan, graduates of Harvard Medical School still have the third-lowest level of student debt in the country at $105,389.

    Currently, Harvard Medical School determines students' financial need using federal formulas and distributes need-based tuition scholarships to all students. However, students who have financial needs are required to take out a $33,950 unit loan each year

    Edward Hundert, dean of medical education at Harvard Medical School, said that instead of going tuition-free, the medical school plans to offer more aid to students who need financial assistance.

    "What we're trying to do is make sure that, as we allocate our scholarship funds, that we do it based on the calculated ability to pay of people who apply," Hundert explains.

    Why going tuition-free can be challenging

    While tuition-free medical school might sound ideal to many, the initiative might not be "realistic for all schools," according to Julie Fresne, a senior administrator at the Association of American Medical Colleges. She said becoming tuition-free "takes tremendous support and commitment, not to mention very generous donors, which isn't realistic for all schools."

    Regardless, Harvard Medical School stands by its current tuition scheme and, according to Hundert, the institution is not concerned about losing prospective students to lower-cost schools such as NYU, the Harvard Crimson reports.

    According to Hundert, the school is confident that students will consider cost and environment when deciding on a medical school. "I really feel strongly that students should try to find that best learning environment for them," he said (Rege, Becker's Hospital Review, 9/11; Vrotsos, The Harvard Crimson, 9/7).

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