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Lowering the burden of debt for medical students

March 27, 2018
Photo by Robert A. Lisak
The majority of medical students in the U.S. graduate with debt; the School of Medicine revised its financial aid policies to help reduce this burden. Photo credit: Robert Lisak.
The School of Medicine is changing its financial aid policies to benefit students receiving need-based aid.

Recently, the School of Medicine undertook an initiative to examine our financial aid policies in order to better understand an issue of great concern to our students and to medical education in general.

According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, 73 percent of medical school graduates had education debt in 2017. The average debt level of YSM students graduating with debt in 2017 was $121,000—lower than the national average of $191,000, but still a significant burden on our students as they begin their careers. Reducing this burden has been one of the school’s highest priorities.

In September 2017, we convened a committee to evaluate our financial aid policies and propose changes that would provide relief for students receiving need-based aid. Led by Laura Ment, MD, associate dean for admissions and financial aid, and comprised of faculty, students, and staff, the committee considered a number of approaches. The decision was ultimately made to focus on two aspects of our policy: the unit loan—the amount students are expected to borrow—and parental contribution. The idea was to craft policy changes that would have the greatest impact on the largest number of students.

I’m pleased to report that beginning with the 2018-19 academic year, the unit loan will be decreased by $7,000 to $23,000 per year, with the difference being covered by YSM scholarship funds which are generously supported by our alumni. This significantly reverses an upward trajectory—the unit loan has increased by $1,000 each year for the past several years. Our goal is to now hold it steady at $23,000, although this will of necessity depend on future university and school finances. We are, however, committed to guaranteeing this loan level for all present students and for students who are admitted this year with a unit loan in this amount. Furthermore, the threshold for no parental contribution from income will be increased from $100,000 to $125,000, and parental contributions will be prorated for income between $125,000 and $165,000.

Compared to our current policy, the new policy will have a significant impact on students who receive need-based aid to finance their medical education. Most will benefit from lower loan expectations; others who did not qualify for need-based aid in the past may now be eligible. Presuming that parents earning in excess of $125,000 per year contribute the expected amount, no student should accumulate debt in excess of $92,000 over four years at Yale. Our hope is that these changes will increase the school’s accessibility for students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and lessen the financial burden on our graduates as they seek to become tomorrow’s leaders and advance the practice of medicine.