NYU’s decision to go tuition-free has other top medical schools grappling with how to attract the brightest students

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  • NYU’s announcement that it will make medical school tuition free has other top schools across the country grappling with how they can stay competitive to land top students.
  • Business Insider spoke with several private, top-ranked medical schools to gauge their reaction to NYU’s decision.
  • But barring a large gift and mandate from a donor to provide medical school tuition-free – as was the thrust of NYU’s program – most med schools have to find other ways to keep education costs down.

Tuition-free medical school is becoming less of a pipe dream and more of a reality for future medical students.

New York University made a bold move in August when it said it would offer free tuition to current and future medical students.

The university hopes the decision will alleviate the financial barriers that discourage many promising high school and college students from considering a career in medicine due to concerns with high medical school costs. The effort was funded over 11 years in which NYU raised $600 million including a $100 million gift from billionaire Kenneth Langone and his wife Elaine.

The promise of a tuition-free education will likely give NYU an even more talented pool of applicants vying for that benefit. As medical schools across the country look to attract the best and the brightest, NYU’s announcement to go tuition-free is a game-changer. Now more than ever, medical schools will have to figure out ways to compete and differentiate themselves.

But barring a large gift and mandate from a donor to provide medical school tuition-free – as was the thrust of NYU’s program – schools have to find other ways to keep education costs down.

We reached out to the top 20 medical schools (of which NYU is one), as ranked by US News and World Report to get their reaction to the news and whether we could expect to one day see other schools follow suit. All of the medical schools that Business Insider spoke with were private universities, and all offer a mix of need and merit-based scholarships to their medical school classes.

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For the most part, the medical schools met the NYU announcement with excitement and congratulations.

“I think it’s great. One could even say it’s like when Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile,” Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine vice dean for education and professor of medicine Dr. Roy Ziegelstein told Business Insider.

“All of us in medical education see this as a good thing,” he said. “I don’t think there are any schools in the country that don’t grapple with the cost of attendance.”

Providing a tuition free medical education has been Ziegelstein’s priority for some time but until that happens, Johns Hopkins has been trying to increase the appeal and affordability of their programs through offerings of need-based and merit-based scholarships.

Vanderbilt Medical School told Business Insider that 70% of its students receive some form of scholarship and almost half graduate with no debt. “We are actively exploring ways of covering more need, as calculated by federal aid applications,” Vanderbilt said in an email.

Dr. Valerie Ratts, an associate dean for admissions at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said the school isn’t making any quick decisions, even in the wake of NYU’s announcement.

“We’re carefully considering how to best spend our money,” Ratts said.

For many, that means increasing the amount of financial aid for students who need it the most.

“We aim to partner with visionary philanthropists who can help us provide more robust scholarship support to every student with financial need and are working to lower and, ultimately, to eliminate student debt, giving our graduates the flexibility to pursue the medical field of their choice,” Harvard Medical School said in a statement.

Read more: NYU is offering free tuition to its medical students to fix one of the biggest problems in healthcare – but not everyone is convinced it’ll work

Many medical schools are trying to find ways to make sure its students don’t live with debt after graduation.

In 2016, former Merck chairman Dr. P. Roy Vagelos and his wife, Diana, gave Columbia’s medical school $250 million toward a debt-free program. The new scholarship program will allow approximately 20% of students to receive scholarships covering their entire tuition. It also provide grants for approximately half of students body that qualify for financial aid, which means they don’t have to take out loans.

“Benefactor funding to increase scholarship endowments and eliminate medical student debt is an investment that can significantly impact the future of patient care,” Dr. Fredric Meyer, the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine’s executive dean for education, said in an email.

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Some schools agreed that education debt is a critical issue, but they weren’t sure that a tuition free offering is the best way to incentivize students to go into medicine.

“I’m not sure if you had a gift that it’s the best way to spend it going forward,” Duke University School of Medicine vice dean for education Dr. Edward Buckley told Business Insider.His argument: There are other ways to spend the funding from a large gift, such as cutting-edge medical technology that can be used to train students.

Dr. Neil Gesundheit, the senior associate dean for medical education at Stanford School of Medicine told Business Insider that he hopes to subsidize more students’ tuition and living expenses. He said he does expect to see other schools follow suit with tuition-free medical programs, though he expressed concern about how this might impact state schools that might not be able to promise the free tuition private institutions – and their donor pools – have made accessible.

“I worry about medical schools that are strong training programs but aren’t well supported by philanthropy,” he said.