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Cornell Scholarships to Provide Debt-Free Medical School

Cornell Scholarships to Provide Debt-Free Medical School

Monday, 16 September 2019 03:31 PM

Former Wall Street titans Sanford Weill and Maurice “Hank” Greenberg are spearheading a $160 million scholarship program to provide medical students a debt-free education.

Weill Cornell Medicine announced the package of gifts establishing the program Monday, saying the scholarships will eliminate medical-education debt for students qualifying for financial aid -- half the current student body.

“This takes this burden and stress away from our students,” said Jessica Bibliowicz, who succeeded her father, Sanford Weill, to become chairman of Weill Cornell Medicine’s board in 2014. “When you listen to students with a lot of debt, very often they might have a passion but they think that might not be the most practical thing because they have this debt to pay back.”

Medical schools in the U.S. are trying to address the crushing debt load of hundreds of thousands of dollars that can burden their students for years after graduation. Soaring student debt has even become a key issue for Democrats in the presidential race. Schools hope that by reducing the debt they can also attract a more diverse group of students.

Among medical students who graduated in 2018, 71% took loans to pay for the training and the median total was $194,000, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. About one-third had previous education debt, at a median of $25,000, the AAMC data show.

The cost to attend Weill Cornell, a four-year school, is about $90,000 on average annually, including tuition, housing, books and other expenses. Weill Cornell is a leading academic medical center.

Longtime Backers

The Weill Cornell donations come from the Starr Foundation, directed by Greenberg, the former chief executive of American International Group Inc.; Weill, the ex-chairman of Citigroup Inc., his wife, Joan, and their family foundation, along with other donors, the school said.

Greenberg and the Weills are longtime supporters of the institution. The school was renamed for the Weills after they donated $100 million in 1998.

A federal program established in 2007 that can forgive government student loans for those who spend a decade in public service -- an option especially appealing to physicians -- has yet to make a dent in the issue. As of May, only 1% of the 54,000 applications received in the prior 12 months were approved, according to a federal report.

“Student debt is a national crisis right now and we have been planning, working, strategizing and raising money for this moment,” said Augustine M.K. Choi, dean of Weill Cornell in New York and provost for medical affairs at Cornell University in Ithaca. “This will have an instant impact on our students.”

‘Broader Effort’

At least three other private medical schools in New York have announced their own scholarship programs over the last year and a half to address the financial issue and attract a more diverse student body.

“More and more, that’s the trend,” said Matthew Shick, senior director of government relations for AAMC. “It’s part of a broader effort to show how important diversity is to improve health outcomes. I think you’ll see more.”

At Weill Cornell, 52% of the 373 medical students in the current academic year qualify for the scholarship, which doesn’t need to be repaid, according to the school. The aid is based on a formula that examines the assets and income of students and their parents. There is no threshold or income cutoff.

Students who began this fall will have the benefit available to them for all four years and those further along would be eligible for their remaining time. The program isn’t retroactive.

Extensive Study

The path to becoming a doctor is lengthy. After medical school, physicians complete residencies. For example, internal medicine takes three years. Then, a specialty such as cardiology can add three more years.

An early program aimed at addressing accessibility was announced by the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2012. A $100 million gift from billionaire David Geffen has funded the full cost for 264 students since the 2013-2014 year, according to the school. The scholarship is based on merit rather than need.

New York University’s School of Medicine announced last year that it would cover tuition for all students. They would still be responsible for costs including housing, books and other expenses.

Columbia University’s medical school said in 2018 that it would replace loans with scholarship money for those who qualify. This April, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai said students with demonstrated financial need would have their debt capped at $18,750 a year, or a maximum of $75,000. About 40% of first-year students qualified.

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Former Wall Street titans Sanford Weill and Maurice "Hank" Greenberg are spearheading a $160 million scholarship program to provide medical students a debt-free education.
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Monday, 16 September 2019 03:31 PM
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