After Weill Cornell Medicine’s historic announcement that it would eliminate loans for students, premedical undergraduate students in Ithaca and medical students in New York City expressed skepticism, shock and excitement.
Loans — the ones students are shackled with while in Ithaca, and the prospect of getting roped into more — loom over students as they think about graduate school, many students told The Sun.
“We’ve been working on it for a long time,” Andrew Griswold said. Griswold is a fifth-year student in the M.D./Ph.D. program at Weill who sits as the student overseer on the Board of Overseers at Weill. Last fall, Griswold said, he presented to the Board on student debt.
Presidential candidate and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) — a staunch advocate for cutting tuition costs — congratulated the University in a Facebook post for “doing what once seemed like an impossible dream.”
The staggering cost of higher education has become a hot-button issue across the country, as presidential candidates advocate for forgiving student debt. Many undergraduate students described the fatigue from already accruing hefty loans, even before graduate school.
Many pre-med students told The Sun that they are wary of applications to Weill skyrocketing, like they did at the neighboring New York University after the school took the even more aggressive step of nixing tuition altogether for medical students. Applications to NYU’s medical increased by 47 percent.
Shifts in tuition practices are especially relevant to medical school students, who, compared to professional peers, are typically burdened with the largest debt — and due to years of additional schooling and training, take the longest to begin earning income. Average medical school debt amounted to $190,000 last year, with 25 percent of those students carrying over $200,000 in loans, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
In a tweet Monday night, Weill Cornell Dean Augustine Choi called Monday a “euphoric day and one of the proudest moments of my career.”
Such a euphoric day and one of the proudest moments of my career. Creating an environment that allows for all #WCM students to focus on their careers, rather than the stress and burden of repaying loans is also a great investment in our future healthcare leaders. pic.twitter.com/S2OxEKeqLx
— Augustine MK Choi (@AugustineMKChoi) September 17, 2019
His announcement was met with glee from medical students.
“[Students are] just celebrating how it’s just a huge load off of your shoulders, whether it’s first year students who are going to benefit for four years, [or] second years, third years, even the fourth-year students who are getting one year benefit from the program are super excited,” Griswold said. “It was super exciting for the entire student body to know that debt will no longer be an issue for students.”
Given the notorious cost of living in New York City, the scope of the philanthropy-funded debt-elimination program — which will apply to a demonstrated need for housing — is an asset, too.
“It’s still expensive to live in New York or to buy food in New York, which is something that’s terrific about the program, the financial aid program that was rolled out. It takes into account not just tuition, but also living, learning, all things that are associated with expenses of attending medical school,” Griswold said.
“There’s a sort of pride that comes with knowing my college is actually doing something about such a huge fear and obstacle for future doctors,” Michael Cirelli ’20 told The Sun.
Cirelli, who plans to attend medical school after graduating, also posited that applications to the school may increase as a result of the move, but hopes that other medical schools follow Weill’s lead.
“This is a big step,” Cirelli said, “And I’m crossing my fingers.”
Johnathan Stimpson ’21 contributed reporting to this article.