(UPI) — The New York University School of Medicine announced Thursday it will cover tuition costs for all of its students regardless of merit or financial need.

NYU became the first major medical school in the United States to implement such a program after raising more than $450 million of the $600 million it will need to fund the program.

The program was conceived after the university observed that the prospect of overwhelming student debt has pushed potential candidates away from the program.

“Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of our trustees, alumni, and friends, our hope — and expectation — is that by making medical school accessible to a broader range of applicants, we will be a catalyst for transforming medical education nationwide,” said NYU Langone Health’s board chair Kenneth G. Langone.

Langone, who founded Home Depot, and his wife Elaine Langone contributed $100 million to fund the tuition package.

The fund will cover $55,018 in tuition to 93 first-year students, nine more already covered through M.D./PhD programs and 350 students already enrolled in the M.D.-only degree program.

It doesn’t provide funding for room and board which can cost as much as $27,000 a year in some cases.

Other schools have instituted similar programs, but NYU is the first to provide full tuition for all students without considering merit or financial need.

Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve for example has paid full tuition and fees since 2008, but the program only has 32 students. UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine has a $100 million fund to pay for costs for a four-year medical education, including room and board, but is based on merit and only awarded to 20 percent of students.

NYU said recent trends involving student debt and disparities between pay in different fields have pushed graduates to pursue higher paying specialties.

A survey conducted by Doximity polling 65,000 doctors found the four lowest-paying specialties, which were all in pediatrics, had average annual compensation of $221,900 or below, while Neurosurgery, the highest-paying specialty had an average compensation of $662,755.

“A population as diverse as ours is best served by doctors from all walks of life, we believe, and aspiring physicians and surgeons should not be prevented from pursuing a career in medicine because of the prospect of overwhelming financial debt,” NYU dean Robert I. Grossman said.

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