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  • The Associated Press

    $1B donation makes New York medical school tuition free and transforms students’ lives



    First year student Samuel Woo had been considering a career in cardiology so he would be able to pay off his medical school debt until the announcement this week of a generous donation that will remove tuition fees at his New York City school.

    Now, without the fear of crippling student debt, the 23-year-old whose parents emigrated from South Korea said Tuesday that he can afford to pursue his dream of providing medical services to people living on the streets.

    “I was definitely very emotional and it changes a lot,” said Woo, who had been working as a tutor and at a cafe to help cover his costs.

    Ruth Gottesman, a former professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the widow of a Wall Street investor, announced Monday that she is donating $1 billion to the school in the Bronx. The gift means that four-year students immediately go tuition free, while everyone else will benefit in the fall.

    Another first year, Jade Andrade, whose parents emigrated from the Philippines to rural Virginia, had a similar reaction.

    “A big wave of relief just came over me and, you know, everyone surrounding me in the auditorium,” Andrade said.

    Both students expressed hope that Gottesman’s generous gift would open doors for more low-income students from immigrant families who could not otherwise have afforded to pursue a career in medicine.

    The donation is notable not just for its size — possibly the largest to any U.S. medical school, according to Montefiore Einstein, the umbrella organization for Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Montefiore Health System — but also because the school is located in one of the most impoverished parts of the city and the state of New York.

    “There are people here in the Bronx who are first generation, low-income students who really want to be doctors and want to pursue medicine and want to practice here, but just aren’t able to have the opportunity, whether that’s financial reasons or lack of resources,” Woo said. “I’m hoping that the free tuition helps alleviate some of the pressure of those students and encourages them to think of medicine as, you know, a potentially acceptable field.”

    Andrade, 30, called the announcement liberating.

    “Growing up in an immigrant household, there are very few life decisions that you make without thinking of the financial aspects of it in terms of, you know, ‘Is this like a worthy investment of my time? This is something I want to do, but can I afford it?’” she said.

    But once you remove the financial burden: “Anyone can dream bigger.”

    Astonished students and faculty rose to their feet, clapping, cheering, some crying, after Gottesman, 93, announced her donation. She has been affiliated with the college for 55 years and is the chairperson of its board of trustees.

    School officials said they hoped free tuition would attract a diverse pool of applicants, though it has no plans to change its admissions policy. They said the donation should last for perpetuity, since interest earned means the lump sum will continue to grow. All students will qualify for the free tuition.

    Tuition at the school is currently $63,000 a year, leaving graduating students with mountains of debt that can take decades to repay. The Education Data Initiative says medical graduates on average leave school with $202,453 in debt.

    Other schools in decidedly wealthier areas have also benefitted from generous donations.

    In 2018, Kenneth and Elaine Langone gave $100 million to the NYU Grossman School of Medicine that went to an endowment fund to make tuition free for all current and future medical students. And in 2023, the Langones gave $200 million to the NYU Grossman Long Island School of Medicine to endow a full-tuition scholarship program and guarantee free tuition for all medical students. Kenneth Langone is a co-founder of Home Depot.

    UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine offers merit-based scholarships thanks to some $146 million in donations from the recording industry mogul.

    Gottesman credited her late husband, David “Sandy” Gottesman, for leaving her with the financial means to make the donation. David Gottesman built the Wall Street investment house First Manhattan and was on the board of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. He died in 2022 at age 96.

    “l feel blessed to be given the great privilege of making this gift to such a worthy cause,” said Gottesman, a pioneer in the field of learning disabilities.

    Woo said he called his mother immediately after the announcement.

    “I feel like she asked me a bunch of questions because that’s what immigrant parents do,” he said. “But afterwards, when I clarified I’m not going to pay for tuition anymore, she was very happy.”


    Associated Press reporter Thalia Beaty in New York contributed to this report.

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