Meharry Medical College has always upheld the philosophy of “serving the underserved” and strived to make this their greatest legacy during its 144-year existence.

According to Forbes, its legacy has been threatened by the student loan debt enemy that impacts close to 930 students that attend Meharry across its three schools. This year (2020), the school of medicine’s graduating class averaged $285,743 in debt.

The American business magazine also reports that not only is student loan debt a challenge but Historically Black Colleges and Universities, who receive 70 percent less in endowments than non-HBCUs, are historically underfunded.

“We have to live up to the same standards as the other 170 medical schools,” said Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, Meharry’s president on the topic of accreditation.

“There’s this assumption that somehow we’re different because we happen to be predominately Black,” Dr. Hildreth said. “I’m not diminishing the HBCU part because it is special, and we want to preserve that, but that specialness does not negate the fact that we’re also in our own right academic health science centers and do all the things that those [non-HBCU] organizations do.”

With that, Meharry wants to be a part of the solution. An associate professor at the school, Dr. Donald Alcendor, has actively been working to develop a COVID-19 antiviral drug that recently just entered the animal toxicity trial phase. He also wrote a letter to highlight the racial disparities associated with COVID-19 mortality that was published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine.

Dr. Hildreth is also actively negotiating to fund a consortium that would band together four Black medical schools including Meharry, Morehouse School of Medicine, Charles R. Drew Medical School, and Howard University College of Medicine, to mitigate and address the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on communities of color.

He explains to Forbes that he is sure these same efforts are what helped to influence Bloomberg Philanthropies’ recent pledge to donate $100 million to four HBCUs over the next four years. From this initiative, Meharry will receive the school’s largest single donation in the amount of $34 million.

“I’m excited about the statement it makes. This gift offers validation… we have something to bring to the table,” Hildreth said. “We want to make sure that students leave us with the knowledge and expertise to know how to make a financial decision so they can begin to accumulate and build up wealth.”

Of the donation, $28 million will be used to support students directly through $100,000 financial aid packages to eligible individuals. The remaining $7 million will be distributed to financial counseling programs and other “wraparound services” to help students work toward making smart money decisions.