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September 17, 2019

Weill Cornell is the latest to offer free med school (but not to everyone)

Daily Briefing

    Weill Cornell Medicine on Monday announced that starting in the 2019-2020 school year it will expand its scholarship offerings to provide a "full ride" that covers tuition as well as room and board, books, and other expenses to all students who qualify for financial aid.

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    Medical schools are increasingly taking steps to reduce student debt, according to Matthew Shick, senior director of government relations for the Association of American Medical Colleges. New York University, for instance, announced last year that it would cover the full cost of tuition for all of its medical students regardless of merit or financial need.

    "[These] programs can help recruit students from diverse and disadvantaged backgrounds who are more likely to practice in underserved communities…It's part of a broader effort to show how important diversity is to improve health outcomes," Shick said. "I think you'll see more."

    The moves also come in part in response to concerns that students are choosing to go into higher-paid specialty care, instead of primary care or lower-paid specialties such as pediatrics.

    Weill Cornell's program

    Cornell's program will cover all costs related to attending Weill Cornell for all financial aid-qualifying students thanks in part to a $150 million gift from the Starr Foundation, as well as the Joan and Sanford Weill Family Foundation. The school said that two-thirds of its student body will now be able to attend school tuition-free.

    According to Augustine M.K. Choi, dean of Weill Cornell and provost for medical affairs at Cornell University, the school needs about $50 million more to ensure the program continues perpetually, which Choi said he feels "very confident" the school will get.

    The program is not retroactive, meaning that students who are currently enrolled will not have tuition for previous years waived. Currently, one year at Weill Cornell costs over $90,000, according to the school, leading many students to turn to loans. The average debt for a graduate of Weill Cornell this year was $156,851, the school said.

    Catherine Han, a medical student at Cornell, said that upon hearing the news, "I immediately burst into tears." She continued, "I feel like the pressure that students know was bearing down on me, and it just started to lift off. And I feel so light now because it's really life-changing."

    In a release, Martha Pollack, president of Cornell University, said the program "ensures that every student who wishes to become a doctor can do so—for their betterment and for the patients they serve." She continued, "By investing in our medical students, we impart a lasting, positive effect on the health care landscape across the country" (Hassan, New York Times, 9/16; Weill Cornell release, 9/16; Lorin/Wald, Bloomberg, 9/16; West, Wall Street Journal, 9/16; Sandler, Forbes, 9/16).

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