Former Merck CEO donates $250M to Columbia University medical school to eliminate student debt

P. Roy Vagelos, MD, former president, CEO and chairman of Merck, and his wife, Diana, donated $250 million to New York City-based Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons to fund an endowment to cover the costs of attending medical school for future students, the couple announced Monday evening, according to The New York Times.

University officials said roughly $150 million of the $250 million donation will be used to underwrite the medical school's financial aid. Students who show substantial financial need will be eligible for full-tuition scholarships, while others may receive grants to help fund their education. The neediest students may also be eligible to have the cost of their living expenses covered, officials said.

The remainder of the $250 million gift will be used to fund medical programs, scientific research and a professorship. Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger said Monday evening the medical school will be renamed the Columbia University Roy and Diana Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons in the couple's honor.

Dr. Vagelos told The New York Times he hopes the funds will allow those attending Columbia University medical school to freely pursue specialities that may be less lucrative than top-paying specialties. He also noted he attended Columbia medical school as a scholarship student during the 1950s.

Columbia University medical school is ranked among the top medical schools in the nation, but also ranks among the most expensive. Tuition for one year amounts to $59,364, with the cost increasing to $90,000 per year for four years when accounting for additional fees and living expenses, the report states.

"We think that this will make a really important impact on the future careers of our graduates, who will be able to follow their dreams, which was what I was able to do," Dr. Vagelos told The New York Times.

University officials said it will take several years for the endowment to begin generating income to fund the full range of scholarships, according to the report.

Dr. Vagelos and his wife have previously donated at least $60 million to the medical school, part of which was used to fund the construction of the Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center, which opened in 2016.

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