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Does It Take a 1 Billion Donation to Make the Racial Wealth Gap Apparent?

By Emma Caspi

Voices Editor


Via Forbes


On February 26th, students attending Albert Einstein College of Medicine rose in ovation when 93-year-old Ruth Gottesman announced that education at the institution would be tuition-free. Montefiore Health System posted a video to X, publicizing the medical student's thunderous applause, cries of triumph, and gasps of shock, which rang around the auditorium once they had processed the announcement.


Dr. Gottesman, a philanthropist and Professor Emerita of Pediatrics at Einstein donated $1 billion to the school. Her late husband David ‘Sandy’ Gottesman is responsible for the sheer monumental size of the donation. He steadily made his fortune by making early investments in Berkshire Hathaway, a multinational conglomerate.


Gottesman told the Times that the instruction her husband left her was to “do whatever you think is right with it”. This directive guided her to ensure the reimbursement of current students and debt-free education of future students with the grand sum. According to The New York Times, her donation is the third largest ever made to an educational institution and the largest to any medical school in the USA.


Seeing as she refused the opportunity to rename the school in her honor and politely rejected any institutional deference in return for her generosity, Gottesman’s wish for accessible education and pure altruism was commended by students and professors alike. The Tuition to attend Einstein Medical School surpasses 59,000 dollars. According to the BBC, the debt of an average medical student graduate in 2023 surpassed 200,000 dollars, proving that access to higher education is elusive and, for some, financially impossible.


The Bronx, New York City’s poorest borough, is home to Einstein College, making Gottesman’s benevolent gesture a gift which broadened the student body. However, other students in the Bronx still suffer dire consequences from student loans.


According to research conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and NYC Consumer Affairs, the Bronx still holds the highest rate of student loan distress compared to other boroughs. Three of the five neighbourhoods with the highest percentage of delinquent student loan borrowers reside in the Bronx. The NYU Furman Center estimates that the Bronx has a significant Black population comprising 27.7 percent, while only 8.6 percent identify as White.


Beyond the ‘white’ circumstances for student debt, it is hard to ignore the fact that the Black-White wealth gap, caused by years of institutional and systemic racism, affects education. According to The Harvard Gazette, the net wealth of an ordinary Black family in America is one-tenth that of a White family. Because of this inequality, there is a gap in educational resources and learning opportunities. 


A college degree does not erase the income gap that is present between White and Black workers whereby Black students suffer a disproportionate burden from student loans. The debt that Black students incur from obtaining a degree only reinforces the racial wealth gap. Unfortunately, student debt is not stagnant, and migrates to other regions of students’ lives [including housing choices, employment opportunities, family planning, homeownership decisions, entrepreneurial endeavors, and the list goes on. In short, this debt risks ruining one’s life and ambitions due to financial uncertainty. Brookings Institution reveals that income parity is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve as the debt of Black communities steadily rises. As the years pass, real student experiences affirm the exacerbation of this systemic problem.


Speaking to The New Yorker, 91-year-old Betty Ann reveals her experience as a Black woman attending New York University Law School. At the time, Betty Ann was a 52-year-old single mother of two who wanted to combat educational inequity through higher education. Betty Ann decided to borrow $29,000 for financial aid and currently owes $329,309.69. Selling most of her furniture hardly affected her debt, causing her to doubt her academic decisions daily. As Journalist Eleni Schirmer rightly notes, people are not aging out of debt as the policymakers have hoped, but are aging into it, with student debt often lingering for a lifetime. 


Efforts have been made in an attempt to reduce the debt and suffering of Black students. President Joe Biden and his administration announced in 2021 their plans to ‘build Black wealth’ and ‘narrow the racial wealth gap’. Over time, however, many have observed that he may have bit off more than he could chew. Following and analyzing his decisions and actions, The Washington Post believes his work to be composed of ‘modest successes’ and ‘major setbacks’ due to increasing opposition from the GOP. 

Although it is clear that Biden’s extensive array of proposals to close the wealth gap is impressive, ideas themselves do not translate into change until put into action. With much work remaining to be done, Black students in America wonder if his ambitious ideas are enough.



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