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Cornell's medical school debuts free education for students who qualify for financial aid

Students may graduate medical school with a new title but often leave with something else: Massive student loans. Cornell University's medical school announced Monday that won't be the case for many of its students because it's offering a free education to all who qualify for financial aid.

Weill Cornell Medicine's new scholarship program will offer a debt-free education to all medical students with "demonstrated financial need" beginning this fall and every year after, according to a release from the school.

First-year students in the class of 2023 and subsequent students will have their student loans replaced by scholarships for the duration of their education. Students currently enrolled who qualify will receive scholarships to replace their loans for the upcoming year and each year until they graduate.

The average debt owed by graduates in the 2018-2019 school year was $156,851, according to Jen Gundersen, a media relations manager for the school.

The school isn't just covering courses, though. Future doctors who qualify won't have to borrow money for housing, books, food or other related expenses either — it's all covered by scholarships.

"This bold initiative to eliminate medical education student debt ensures that every student who wishes to become a doctor can do so — for their betterment and for the patients they serve," university president Martha E. Pollack said. "By investing in our medical students, we impart a lasting, positive effect on the healthcare landscape across the country."

Medical Student Scholarship Announcement | Weill Cornell Medicine by Weill Cornell Medicine on YouTube

The scholarships were made possible due to a "lead gift" from The Starr Foundation, which is directed by a member of the school's board of overseers, Maurice R. Greenberg and donations from Joan and Sanford I. Weill and the Weill Family Foundation, as well as other donors. The donations totaled $160 million.

Students pursuing dual M.D.-Ph.D degrees through a separate program will be provided full tuition and living expenses stipends from the National Institutes of Health and Weill Cornell Medicine.

Together, the two programs will allow two-thirds of the school's medical student body to graduate without debt, according to the release.

Over half of the school's medical students have historically received need-based scholarships, with the grants averaging about $38,000 last year, to reduce the cost of attendance, Gundersen told CBS News via email. Attendance is approximately $90,000 a year.

The school needs around $50 million more in the future to continue the program indefinitely, the medical school's Dean, Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, told The New York Times. However, he said he feels "very confident" that number would be reached.

While medicine may be a traditionally high-paying field, many doctors graduate with mountains of debt that can take decades to pay off. Students who borrow for medical school graduate with a median debt of $200,000, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Cornell isn't the first university to attempt to defray the lofty cost of medical school. NYU's medical school went tuition-free earlier this year. Last year, Columbia University announced its students will graduate debt-free and an entire class of medical students at the University of Houston received free tuition thanks to an anonymous donor last summer.

How the NYU School of Medicine is going tuition-free 14:10
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