College of Medicine Students

An institution built on pride

From a single building in downtown Charleston grew the state’s premier academic medical center, one that today includes 25 departments and is recognized as a national leader in medical education, research and patient care.

The Rising Cost of a Medical Education


Beyond normal inflation 

Students seeking a place in medical school today are doing so under unprecedented and intimidating economic circumstances. Financial factors alone have begun to deter many otherwise qualified students from pursuing a career in medicine.

Yes, the cost of almost everything has risen over time. The average cost of a car has grown eight times over since 1970. Meanwhile, the median cost of a home has grown tenfold. But the cost of higher education has outpaced all of these.

From 1978 to 2011, college tuition rose 7.45 percent annually, or nearly twice as fast as the Consumer Price Index - and two percentage points faster than health-care costs.

Graph showing the rise in tuition and fees versus medical care and new home prices

Medical education has never been inexpensive. But, it is no longer a matter of simply working hard, being careful and making sacrifices. Even the most intelligent and hard-working students simply cannot avoid taking on large amounts of debt to pay for their undergraduate and then their medical educations.

Cost should be an investment, not an impediment

To make matters worse, steep cuts in state and federal support of higher education over the past 15 years has shifted more of the financial burden onto students.

Here at the College of Medicine, state appropriations now account for just 5 percent of our annual budget. And that’s one reason why our students are now paying an average of 6,500 percent more in tuition than they did in 1970.

Graph illustrating the downward trend of allocations from the state.
Graph illustrating the upward trend in tuition.

Student loans are available, but...

Today, almost 90 percent of our students borrow money to finance their education. Upon graduation, they will graduate with an average debt of nearly $200,000. Debt of this magnitude can have far reaching implications for our students, their families and the health care system in general.

  • For too many, the prospect of such debt is a deal-breaker. They simply look for other opportunities.
  • For others, it can delay or alter other major life decisions – home purchases, marriage, children – for years.
  • Our profession is becoming closed to students of modest means. Today, just 10 percent of the nation’s medical students come from families with incomes in the lowest 40th percentile.
  • We know that some of our students are making decisions about their careers with debt repayment in mind.