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Susan Estrich
12 Feb 2016
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David Geffen's Gift


I will never forget the day I went over to the loan office that used to be at Harvard's Holyoke Center and gave them my last student loan repayment check. I walked out actually feeling lighter. I was a tenured professor at Harvard at the time, but I remembered — and still do — the years when the only way I could afford to eat was to put the meal on my "bursar's card" and just pile more onto that loan.

Of course, I was so much luckier than most students today. My undergraduate school, Wellesley, weighted my award in favor of grants, not loans, which most schools didn't do then and even fewer do now. For law school, I was mostly in the debt column, but it cost so much less than it does now (even adjusting for inflation) that it was a factor in my life, not the driving force.

Today, my students come see me to talk about their futures, and the very first thing we discuss — before their hopes and dreams, before what matters and what doesn't — is what their monthly payments will be. Even years later, when they are ready to move beyond that first job that they took in the hopes of paying "it" off, most of them are still crushed by the weight on their shoulders. Don't think for a moment that you can live any better when you get out, I always warn them, because the minute you do, you'll never pay "it" off.

Yes, there are exceptions: schools with loan forgiveness programs for students who pursue public service. But most students are saddled with loans with no such provisions, and for all the talk about default rates, the students I know make huge sacrifices to pay their debts.

That is why David Geffen's unprecedented generosity to the UCLA Geffen School of Medicine is so deserving of praise.

Mind you, I teach at USC.

Praising things associated with UCLA is not part of my usual repertoire. But giving $100 million so that 33 students in next year's class can graduate with no debt at all is a gift worth notice even by a loyal Trojan.

It costs about $300,000 to get a medical degree from UCLA. Nationally, the average debt for medical students who take out loans (and more than 85 percent do) is about $170,000. That doesn't count the college loans that often accrue interest in the meantime.

As with lawyers, these huge debts can't help but influence the choices made by graduates: choices about whether to practice family medicine or pursue a specialty with higher compensation; choices about whether to enter "Big Law" (nothing wrong with big firm practice, but it is not for everyone, and there is no shortage of lawyers willing to represent well-heeled clients) or fill the enormous need for those willing to represent people who can't pay top dollar but need top help.

And lawyers and doctors are at least positioned to make money — someday. Social workers? Educators with advanced degrees? The best trained teachers?

I've been raising money for educational institutions for decades. Relatively speaking, it's "easy" to raise bricks-and-mortar money. Most very, very rich people who are willing to make gifts want to see their names engraved for posterity on large and impressive buildings, or at least on the classrooms and institutes inside those buildings, whether or not that's what the school really needs.

With his gift, Mr. Geffen chose to associate his name not with a new building or a new institute, but with the lives of 33 young men and women who will be free to follow their dreams and change people's lives — thanks to him. In my book, that is a gift that will keep on giving. Merry Christmas.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



5 Comments | Post Comment
Davis Geffen should have given the $100M to BHO who needs it to fund Obamacare. Also, why is tuition so high at our institutions of higher learning? Could salaries have anything to do with it?
Comment: #1
Posted by: Oldtimer
Fri Dec 14, 2012 5:09 AM
When billionaires give to charities liberals approve of, they are saints, otherwise the rich are evil and need to pay their fair share because they have 13% tax rates somehow. I am not taking away from this generous gift and have no doubt Mr. Geffen is a good philanthropist. Unlike most americans, I have no problem at all with rich people as long as they did not amass their fortunes using cronyism with the government.
Also, college tuitions are high because of government subsidised student loans. When schools know the government will back these kids no matter the cost, they jack up their prices to accomodate. There is no other explaination why tution has increased more than any other cost out there. If government got out of the way and students had to get more reasonable loans based on traditional factors, prices would fall like rocks. The real losers here are the students who leave with much more debt than they have to.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Fri Dec 14, 2012 6:19 AM
Who would go into medicine when you have to carry a $300,000.00 debt for medical school, plus your undergrad, plus up to seven years of internship at $100k a year? Obamacare will reduce the amount of pay for doctors under Medicaid even while increasing the number of patients which they have to treat up to thirty per cent. More importantly, Obamacare still exposes physicians to malpractice liability. I knew an obstetrician who paid $45k a year in malpractice premiums--and he had no malpractice claims against him.
Obamacare will give US physicians thirty million more patients. At the national rate of 2.4 doctors per 1,000 people, we will need 72,000 more doctors. Their med school tuition will be over 200 billion dollars. Even David Geffen doesn't have that kind of money. For the first time in a century medical doctors advise their children not to go into medicine.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Cowboy Jay
Fri Dec 14, 2012 11:09 AM
Hey Jay, look on the even worse side. Obamacare will be giving us plenty more lawyers and IRS agents. Over 16,000. Thats 16,000 jobs created, but oh wait for every government job thats created 1.4 private sector jobs are lost. So we'll be losing 22,400 jobs instead.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Sat Dec 15, 2012 6:04 AM
I have never met Susan Estrich and certainly do not agree with her politics.

Having said that I find it refreshing to see that there is someone "on the other side" who I would find to be kind, sincere, and would enjoy having dinner with
Comment: #5
Posted by: leslie Mann
Sat Dec 15, 2012 11:18 AM
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