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Harebrained No More

Good education isn't free. This is Newton's fourth law and a truth alongside motherhood and apple pie. Since ancient times, education has required payment for teachers, institutions, books, travel, and sustenance. Through the centuries we have journey from affordable to crippling debt.

In the 2016 elections when Bernie Sanders said "free college", we scratched our heads, rolled our eyes, and repeated that good education costs money. I told my friends who were "feeling the Bern" I couldn't see our tax dollars sustaining free education. My friends respond back with a list of countries where higher education is free. Yes, but those countries are like US states. We can't extrapolate to a grander scale and still have a model that works, I said.

Well, last week was a jarring reminder of how innovative people and institutions find ways to do the impossible!

New York University (NYU) announced that it is making tuition free for all current and future MDs. They've raised 450M of the 600M needed to forgive tuition into perpetuity.

Let that sink in: into perpetuity.

They are the first medical school in the US to do this but not the first university. 12 universities in the US have already gone tuition-free. They include the armed forces schools which require statutory service after graduation. Curtis Institute of Music in PA has being doing it since 1928! There are schools in Kentucky, New York, Missouri and Kansas. At the other end of the spectrum are schools like Columbia, Vassar, Harvey Mudd, and University of Chicago where undergraduate tuition hits the mid-50s with living expenses on top. The rise in cost of a college education is simply staggering.

A quarter of MD students in 2016 carried an average debt of over $200,000. By the time these payments are completed, the debt will mushroom to nearly half a million dollars. Enough to turn the financial queasy away from becoming doctors and the not-so-queasy from abandoning sub-specialties that dig a deeper hole.

NYU's medical school just told the world that free education isn't such a harebrained idea for a mainstream professional program.

Someone recently asked me, "If we can spend trillions on decades-long wars, why not on education?" Good point, but how? Being in Gotham with enormously wealthy alums allowed NYU to have the audacity to create a 450M nest egg. To Columbia's credit they have been offering loan-free assistance to MD students who qualify for financial assistance. With NYU setting the bar even higher, more power to the top tier medical schools as they reduce the financial burden and attract young people to a profession that is difficult to get into, hard to survive, and ridiculously hard to pay for.

As for me, I am certainly not going to be dismissive about free education any longer. But first, I will call my younger son to ask why he did not apply to NYU.

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