The School of Medicine has overhauled its financial aid policy with a major boost in aid to middle-income families by reducing the required parental contribution for families making less than $100,000 per year, medical school Dean Robert J. Alpern, M.D., announced in April.

This change is made possible by the addition to the school’s budget of approximately $1.1 million in new need-based scholarship funds from endowment income.

According to Richard Belitsky, M.D., deputy dean for education, the rising pressure of student debt has been accelerating a trend in career choices away from primary care and other lower-paying specialties. In addition to making medical school significantly more affordable for middle-income families, the new policy will also lower financial barriers for students who wish to enter less lucrative fields of medicine. “Our goal is to reduce the debt burden on students and replace it with scholarship aid, so they can make career choices based on what they want to do, rather than what pays the most,” said Belitsky.

In an e-mail to the medical school community, Alpern wrote, “It is critical to the health of medicine and to society in general that medical education is available to students from all segments of society. Medical schools also have an obligation to prepare students for careers in all the specialties, so that patients with every kind of medical need can be served.”

Beginning with the 2008 academic year, no contribution toward tuition will be expected from parents earning less than $100,000 whose assets are typical of their income level. Contributions from parents earning more than $100,000 will be calibrated according to a sliding scale based on a realistic assessment of income and assets. The change will apply to both current and newly enrolled students.

The school is also raising its “base loan” amount (which students are expected to cover by taking out a loan before receiving scholarships and grants) from $17,000 to $18,000, but this amount will remain among the lowest of all peer private institutions.

The total cost of medical school at Yale in 2008–2009 will be $62,010 for an incoming student, including tuition, room, board, books, transportation and other expenses. The average medical education debt of School of Medicine students who graduated with outstanding loans in 2007 was $115,000, compared to a national average of $157,000 for graduates of private medical schools. The average debt figure is estimated at $125,000 for this year’s graduating class at Yale. In 2007–2008, medical students at Yale received $7.3 million in grants and $9.2 million in student loans. Overall, 87.6 percent of Yale medical students receive some form of financial aid.

The new policy reflects a growing trend among universities with large endowments to make more financial aid available. Yale College announced in January that it would reduce the cost of undergraduate education by up to 50 percent for families with need. Families earning up to $60,000 a year will make no contribution and families earning up to $120,000 will pay no more than 10 percent of their income toward Yale College costs.

Belitsky said, “If you’re without any resources, there’s scholarship money available to pay for medical school, and if you’re wealthy, there’s family money to pay for it. What we’ve found is that it’s the middle-income families who have been taking it on the chin.” Alpern added, “The school’s previous financial-aid formula assumed that families earning as little as $45,000 a year could contribute to their children’s medical school costs, when in fact, they often cannot. We’re correcting that now.”