EDITORIAL: UNLV medical school scholarship drive delivers

Higher education officials, health care professionals, business leaders and lawmakers made a lot of promises in creating a brand-new medical school at UNLV. Economic development. Improved health care. New physicians who’ll stay in the valley to alleviate critical doctor shortages. Significant community and philanthropic support to accompany the state funding required to get the school up and running. The rapid development of not merely a good medical school, but a great one that can attract excellent applicants and be highly selective in admissions.

They’re off to an incredible start. Less than a week after Gov. Brian Sandoval signed into law the state’s startup funding for the medical school — $27 million over two years, which will allow the school’s charter class to begin studies in 2017 — UNLV announced every one of its first students would receive full scholarships. And dozens of students in subsequent classes will get full rides, as well.

UNLV sought to provide full scholarships, worth $100,000 apiece, to its first class of 60 students to “attract high-quality students in Nevada and across the nation who will elevate the school’s reputation and set the tone for long-term success,” Dr. Barbara Atkinson, UNLV School of Medicine planning dean, said at the start of the scholarship drive a few months ago. “The few schools who have taken this approach significantly increased the quality and volume of applicants they received. This benefits the UNLV School of Medicine and our future student pool.”

The fundraising goal was $6 million. Instead, the drive raised $13.5 million, enough for 135 full scholarships. And it did so in less than 60 days, making it one of the fastest, most successful higher education fundraising drives in the country. The bulk of the donations came from the Engelstad Family Foundation, which closed the drive with a $10 million pledge.

Tuition is a huge barrier and burden for anyone who aspires to become a doctor. Medical students know they’ll complete their schooling with six figures of debt — and be unable to immediately make a dent in that debt while they complete their residency training at low salaries. How many students will be willing to put UNLV’s medical school on the map in exchange for free tuition? An awful lot, we bet.

The Engelstad Family Foundation, which has contributed so generously to UNLV and other Nevada organizations over the years, deserves countless thank yous for this forward-thinking donation, as do the scholarship fund’s other contributors.

The fundraising for the UNLV School of Medicine is just getting started. More philanthropy is needed for the school’s building and other capital needs. Judging from the success of the school’s scholarship drive, Southern Nevada will get behind that effort as well — and continue to make good on the promise of broad community support.

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