By Dr. Paul Ehrlich
On the wall of my consulting room is a frame that is famous among budding doctors at NYU where I am on staff. For many years, every time new residents or medical students came to my practice for an allergy rotation, they made a pilgrimage to that frame and gazed on its contents longingly. It is a check from 1934 for $450 that my grandfather wrote to for my father’s first year of medical school at NYU. Before August 18, 2018, $450 looked like such a bargain compared to the $55,000 that NYU tuition had risen to that these bright ambitious young talents would stare wistfully at this apparent bargain.
That ritual may change. On August 18, my colleagues and I received this announcement:
We hope you’re well and enjoying the summer. We write to share important news: Just a few minutes ago, Dr. Robert I. Grossman, the Saul J. Farber Dean and CEO of NYU Langone Health, announced that NYU School of Medicine is now a tuition-free institution, awarding full-tuition scholarships to all of our enrolled MD program students, in every class year, that will stay with them until they graduate. No other top-ranked school of medicine in the United States has made a comparable institutional commitment to every MD Program student on this scale. This historic commitment would not have been possible without the longstanding and generous support of our alumni, trustees, and friends.
This is a thrilling development. From this day forward, NYU medical students will no longer be indentured to lenders for their education. No longer will they feel drawn to higher-paying specialties merely because of financial reasons. One contributor to this website Tweeted ruefully following the announcement that he wouldn’t finish paying off his debt until he’s 60 years old.
As to my grandfather’s check, it should be noted that in 1934, $450 was not an inconsequential amount. This was the depths of the Great Depression. Grandpa Sam and Grandma Rae were able to scrape it together selling newspapers, stationery, chewing gum, and toys out of their shop at 409 Third Avenue. It helped that their three sons attended New York City public colleges free of charge and they all lived at home, just a few blocks from Bellevue where my father received his medical education, as I did. When I attended NYU in the 1970s tuition was considerably higher although nothing like the crushing modern level.
However, I must add that not everyone could pay the $450. My father made a friend in his first year whose parents lost their jobs and couldn’t help. The friend went to the registrar to withdraw, but the news reached the dean’s office. They looked at this young man’s record and saw that he was extraordinarily gifted and accomplished. They said that if he would agree to take a year off and teach core classes in which he had excelled in his first year, they would waive his tuition for the remaining years. He took the bait, and thus the world received a great gift. The student’s name was Jonas Salk.
Who knows if there will be other Jonas Salks drawn to NYU by this new very welcome development? We all know that modern medicine has been warped by money. Many other nations spend far less per capita than we do with far better outcomes. One big difference is that higher education including medical school costs far less. Maybe this will point the way to a new future in which patient care won’t be continually punctuated by the ringing of cash registers. Thanks to the philanthropists who made this happen. May it become the new norm.
By the way, the new tuition-free policy doesn’t absolve students of all obligations. Room and board are $27,000 annually.
NYU-Langone photo by MPR News