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New York University Medical Center as seen from across the East River.

The New York University School of Medicine has become the first top 10-ranked medical school to make tuition free for all students regardless of financial need. The decision was announced on Aug. 16 at the annual “White Coat Ceremony” hosted for new students and families. 

Penn Medicine has yet to take such drastic steps to alleviate the cost of tuition, but Perelman Senior Vice Dean for Medical Education Suzanne Rose assured students that the University is still working to address "the rising cost of medical education." The average debt of Perelman graduates in 2017 was $119,000, Rose said, adding that was lower than the median debt reported by AAMC. 

NYU has been raising funds for 11 years to raise over $450 million for tuition, Business Insider reported. The school estimates that it will need a $600 million endowment to cover tuition in perpetuity.

NYU set medical school tuition at $55,018 for the 2018-2019 academic year, which is now fully covered by the university. Medical students will now only be responsible for fees like housing and books, which can add up to about $28,000 per year. Before, students would pay the fees in addition to tuition.

In nation-wide Association of American Medical Colleges surveys, 75 percent of 2017 graduates reported that they had medical school debt, with a median debt of $180,000. A growing number of medical schools are seeking to alleviate this burden on students. 

Well-known Penn donors Roy and Diana Vagelos donated $250 million last year to Columbia University's Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the school this year announced plans to grant full-tuition scholarships for those with greatest financial need and eliminate loans for others. On the west coast, UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine covers the entire cost of attendance for the 20 percent of students that receive merit scholarships.

Rose, a 1977 College graduate and 1978 Graduate School of Education graduate, said the school is working on expanding financial aid through partnerships with alumni and donors. She did not comment on whether Perelman will consider incentives like NYU's decision to go tuition-free or Columbia’s loan-free policy.

2017 College graduate Edward Gomes said he considered both the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and the NYU School of Medicine before deciding on Perelman. He received $60,000 from Perelman, which virtually covered the $63,137 tuition. But at the time, if he had wanted to attend NYU, he would need $20,000 in loans to cover the tuition and other living expenses, he said.

Gomes said he would have considered NYU more had it announced its new policy before his decision, and that he wished NYU had informed students about this policy when students were accepted. 

2016 College graduate Ipsita Subudhi will enter an M.D./Ph.D. program at NYU’s medical school this fall. While her tuition is already covered by the National Institute of Health, she said she thinks this policy for the M.D. program is positive but “slightly overdue.” 

Subudhi believes students will now be able to “pursue things that are meaningful to them” instead of “grappling” with debt.

Credit: Zach Sheldon

NYU administrators hopes that this decision will allow students to pursue their passions rather than hunt for jobs in lucrative fields, Fortune reported. Increasing tuition and loan debts are contributing to a shortage of researchers and primary care physicians. The AAMC predicts that fields related to American health care needs, like primary care physicians, will face a shortage of 42,600 to 121,300 physicians by 2030.

Rafael Rivera, NYU School of Medicine’s associate dean for Admission and Financial Aid, said to the Wall Street Journal that reducing debt for students was a “moral imperative." 

Gomes and Subudhi expect that NYU's announcement will encourage other schools to increase financial aid efforts. Gomes thinks other top medical schools will become more competitive as NYU’s decision could “push them to be more generous with their financial aid, if not go tuition-free.”

“A lot of top med. schools have the opportunity to do something like this," Subudhi said. "Maybe seeing NYU and seeing how they have gone on to make this happen will encourage them to look more closely at their own schools and how they can also better serve their students.”