School of Medicine reduces student debt by 50% over two years

Starting with the 2019-2020 academic year, YSM students will only be expected to borrow $15,000 per year — down from $30,000 last year.
Students in their white coats at a Yale School of Medicine commencement ceremony.

The School of Medicine announced that it is reducing the unit loan — the amount that medical students who receive need-based scholarships are expected to borrow — from $23,000 to $15,000 per year for all students attending in the 2019-2020 academic year and thereafter. Together with the unit loan reduction that went into effect for the current academic year — from $30,000 to $23,000 — this is a reduction of 50% in two years. This means that more of a student's demonstrated need will be covered by scholarship funds, and less by loans.

Reducing our students’ debt burden has been one of our highest priorities,” says Dr. Robert J. Alpern, dean of the School of Medicine and the Ensign Professor of Medicine. “We believe this will have a real impact on those who receive need-based aid and will further enhance our ability to welcome top-tier students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds who will go on to become tomorrow’s leaders in medicine.”

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, 71% of medical students had education debt in 2018, with a national average debt of $197,000 per student for all medical schools. With an average debt of $116,000 for the class of 2018, Yale was already well below the norm. This latest change in policy means that starting with the class of 2023, students with demonstrated need should not graduate with more than $60,000 in debt.

The School of Medicine continuously examines its financial aid policies and in 2017 convened a committee to look for ways of providing relief for students receiving need-based aid. Led by Dr. Laura Ment, associate dean for admissions and financial aid, the committee comprises faculty, students, and staff. After considering a number of approaches, the decision was ultimately made to focus on two aspects of the financial aid policy — the unit loan and parental contribution. The goal was to craft policy changes that would have the greatest impact on the largest number of students.

Financial aid calculations assume that parents who are able will contribute to the cost of their child’s education. In an effort to ease the burden on families, the threshold for no parental contribution from income was increased last year from an income level of $100,000 to $125,000, with parental contributions being prorated for income between $125,000 and $165,000.

At the same time, the decision was made to reduce the unit loan. While Yale medical students’ debt was significantly lower than the national average, it was nevertheless considerable, and a challenge for students beginning their careers as physicians. “Thanks to the 50% reduction in the unit loan, students who would never have considered applying to Yale School of Medicine can now be assured that Yale can be affordable for those of modest means,” says Ment.

Some medical schools have gone the route of decreasing or eliminating tuition for medical students, but tuition is only part of the cost of a medical education. There are also costs related to living expenses, books, and other fees that significantly increase the amount a student may need to borrow. The School of Medicine includes these costs when calculating financial need and provides scholarships so that a student with demonstrated need should not have to borrow more than the unit loan in any given year. For students with large financial need, scholarships exceed tuition, allowing them not only to attend Yale tuition free, but also receive additional funds to support their other costs.

Our long-term goal is to raise sufficient scholarship funds to cover all demonstrated need and thus eliminate the unit loan,” says Alpern. “We believe this approach will place Yale School of Medicine within reach of a greater number of promising students who might otherwise be unable to afford it without incurring exorbitant debt.”

We believe it is vital that the medical field reflects the population it serves,” says N’Kenge Haines, director of financial aid at Yale School of Medicine. “Our hope is that this initiative will encourage students of all backgrounds to pursue their passion for research, patient care, and education at Yale,” adds Ment.


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