Student Action Guide: Fight Increasing Medical School Tuition
How does your school stack up? First you will need to find out where your medical school’s revenue comes from and how your tuition contributes to the total. An easy way to do this is to consult your school’s Annual Report. These reports are public knowledge and should be available on your school’s website. With the report, you will find data on the revenue and expenditures for your medical school. Depending on the structure of your institution, this may be broken down into individual areas of your school (e.g. undergraduate college, business college, medical college, etc). Compare this data to the national averages on our website to understand where your school falls on the spectrum. You should also be able to find annual reports for at least the last few years. Use this data to assess the current trends at your institution.
Know the terminology
You have several options to curb tuition increases.
- Freezing Tuition: tuition is frozen from the time you matriculate until the time you graduate. Therefore, any increases in tuition affect only incoming classes.
- Capping Tuition: this means that there is a cap on the amount that tuition can increase from year to year. This can be in the form of a maximum percent increase per year, as a percentile of national medical school tuition levels (e.g. tuition that is in the 60 th percentile of all medical schools), or an actual dollar amount per year.
Either of these strategies benefit medical students in that they know how much to expect to pay from the moment they matriculate, aiding in financial planning. These strategies can also be combined. For example, a tuition cap of 3% per year with tuition freezes allows the institution to increase tuition by as much as 3% per year. However, these increases would only apply to incoming students. This in turn protects current students from bearing the additional financial burden of an unplanned additional expense.
Organize for Change
You can’t do it alone! If you are serious about fighting tuition increases, you must build a strong coalition of allies. Medical school tuition rates should be in the interest of every medical student; most if not all students will be in support of any changes that will prevent tuition from increasing. Use this to your advantage – educate your fellow students about the recent increases in tuition using the data you have gathered, inform them about the current trends, and offer them several strategies you could employ to decrease tuition at your school. By doing this, you can unite the students at your school and have a much stronger influence.
Begin by approaching your school newspaper, student government, or class council to begin discussions among students. Try to organize a committee within your student government to deal with this issue directly. Once you do this, you can receive input from other students and have a more unified voice in determining advocacy efforts.
The next step would be to approach a higher administrator. You can begin with one of your professors, but usually the best person to approach is your Dean of Student Affairs. He or she has an obligation to hear the student voice, and can also determine who to approach next. More than likely, he or she will be able to voice your concerns to the school’s Board of Trustees. Your school may also have an elected or appointed student that serves on the Board of Trustees. This person can also be a valuable resource in your reform efforts.
Finally, you can approach your State Legislature about these issues. This will probably only be effective if you are at a public institution, primarily because your state has a vested interest in your institution, and will usually have control over administrative issues at your school. The governor of your state usually sits on the state’s Board of Trustees for public institutions, and therefore is an excellent person to approach.
Know your targets
Now that you have chosen a specific solution to the problem of increasing tuition, you need to know who has the power to change tuition levels. This power depends on the type of medical school and the way it is organized. At most public institutions, The State Legislature or Board of Trustees of the university is the final authority in setting tuition levels. Private institutions vary, from a Board of Trustees that controls university-wide issues (e.g. undergraduate college, business college, medical college, etc.), to a Board of Trustees for the specific medical school. You can find this information at your school’s website.
Know what can be done
You may be wondering how exactly to approach these people, and what exactly you should say. A good starting point is to write a letter explaining the current situation at your school. This letter should be directed towards the individual who has the power to change tuition levels, such as the chair of the Board of Trustees of a private university. You can also have students sign the letter or have a separate petition for signatures, both of which can later be presented to anyone who may be able to help you with your cause. Here are two recent examples of letters from the University of Tennessee in Memphis and the University of Illinois in Chicago that medical students wrote for this issue. You can then open communication with the specific individual in power, set up a meeting, and present your request. If the decision-maker does not agree with your solution, they become the “target” of your issue campaign. Now, your job is to change the power relations so that the target will bend to your demands.
Start a campaign
This will tie together all of the items from above. A campaign allows your voice to penetrate many audiences derive support from your allies so that you can influence your target. Tactics you might use include posting flyers, making signs, writing letters, educating students and faculty, and contacting newspapers and local media. This process is not easy, and at times will require lots of time and effort. But remember, you are not in this alone. Your resources include your fellow students, faculty, Deans, and AMSA. Use AMSA’s activism toolbox to learn more about campaigns, targets, tactics, and using the media.