(Dec. 13, 2011)
Low tuition costs were not the main reason Jon Winter chose East Carolina University for medical school, but for him and other students, it does make a difference.
"It was a factor," the second-year medical students said in the Brody Medical Sciences Building during a break while studying for exams. Classmates, he said, say they plan to pursue lower-paying primary care specialties in part due to the low tuition.
"They talk about if they were $200,000 or $300,000 in debt like they would be at some other schools, they wouldn't be able to do that," Winter said.
ECU has a history of keeping tuition low at its medical school, and according to U.S. News & World Report magazine, the Brody School of Medicine at ECU charges the least for in-state tuition and fees of all public medical schools in the country.
The magazine lists the ten least expensive schools in an online article published today
Brody's tuition and required fees are $11,554, more than $2,000 less than the No. 2 school on the list, Texas A&M Health Science Center. ECU also charges nearly $3,000 less than the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, ranked No. 4.
Dr. Paul Cunningham, dean of the Brody School of Medicine, said the school's low tuition is part of its mission of providing access to medical education for North Carolinians. ECU's medical school accepts only North Carolina residents.
"There are obvious benefits to be obtained from higher tuition and fees, and we could have deviated from the mission and could recruit out-of-state applicants," Cunningham said. "This would not have been hard to do so, as there are so many worthy applicants each year. If this were a mere business, the strategy would be a 'no brainer.'"
Instead, Cunningham said, the school works to keep tuition and tuition increases as low as practical and find efficiencies elsewhere.
Dr. James Peden, associate dean for admissions at the medical school, said he and his staff meet with every applicant invited for interviews at the school, and costs are a factor for many of them for various reasons.
"I always mention the low tuition, which is very important for many of our applicants, particularly those with undergraduate educational debt, those with families to support and so forth," Peden said. "I can recall several graduates commenting that the low cost of their medical education allowed them to enter the specialty of their choice rather than feeling pressured to pursue a more lucrative medical career path that wasn't as appealing to them."
The national average cost of in-state tuition and required fees at public medical schools is $26,418, according to U.S. News.
Tuition and fees at the most expensive public medical school, Oregon Health and Science University, are $40,684. Though their costs differ, ECU and Oregon rank among the nation's top 10 primary care schools, according to U.S. News.
Tuition and fees at the least expensive private medical school, the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, are $28,768. The most expensive private medical school in the country is at Temple University in Philadelphia. There, annual tuition and fees total $54,182.
Tuition and fees do not include room and board, books and other miscellaneous costs. The average annual cost of attendance at ECU, which does include other expenses, is between $31,889 and $35, 841, depending on the class year of school, according school figures.
The average debt incurred by students who borrow to pay for medical school at ECU is $107,533, according to the school. The U.S. average for public medical schools is $150,612 and $176,675 for private schools, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
ECU trustees last month approved an annual tuition increase of $1,500 at the Brody School of Medicine. The University of North Carolina Board of Governors must approve the proposed increase before it takes effect.