CONTEXT: Resources for medical education are becoming more constrained, whereas accountability in medical education is increasing. In this constrictive environment, medical schools need to consider and justify their selection procedures in terms of costs and benefits. To date, there have been no studies focusing on this aspect of selection.
OBJECTIVES: We aimed to examine and compare the costs and benefits of two different approaches to admission into medical school: a tailored, multimethod selection process versus a lottery procedure. Our goal was to assess the relative effectiveness of each approach and to compare these in terms of benefits and costs from the perspective of the medical school.
METHODS: The study was conducted at Maastricht University Medical School, at which the selection process and a weighted lottery procedure ran in parallel for 3 years (2011-2013). The costs and benefits of the selection process were compared with those of the lottery procedure over three student cohorts throughout the Bachelor's programme. The extra costs of selection represented the monetary investment of the medical school in conducting the selection procedure; the benefits were derived from the increase in income generated by the prevention of dropout and the reductions in extra costs facilitated by decreases in the repetition of blocks and objective structured clinical examinations.
RESULTS: The tailor-made selection procedure cost about €139 000 when extrapolated to a full cohort of students (n = 286). The lottery procedure came with negligible costs for the medical school. However, the average benefits of selection compared with the lottery system added up to almost €207 000.
CONCLUSIONS: This study not only shows that conducting a cost-benefit comparison is feasible in the context of selection for medical school, but also that an 'expensive' selection process can be cost-beneficial in comparison with an 'inexpensive' lottery system. We encourage other medical schools to examine the cost-effectiveness of their own selection processes in relation to student outcomes in order to extend knowledge on this important topic.