While some law schools are increasing funding for and expanding their loan repayment programs for graduates who pursue public interest careers, Harvard Law School is doing the opposite. The school announced this week in an email to the student body that they will suspend their Public Service Initiative, a program that grants free third-year tuition to students who commit to working in the public interest sector for five years after graduation.
Created only a year ago to help students deal with the overwhelming cost of a legal degree, the Public Service Initiative aimed to encourage students to explore careers in the public sector in exchange for a free year of study. Of the class of 2008, over 70 percent of HLS graduates took jobs in at a law firm or in business and industry according to the Official ABA Data. HLS worried that graduates were accepting private sector jobs with high salaries out of necessity (to pay student loans) rather than real interest, and that by lessening the financial burden, graduates would be able to pursue their dream careers.
However, as the number of jobs available in the private sector decreased, more class of 2009 students turned to the public sector and the Public Service Initiative quickly became too popular for the school to handle. Nearly 50 percent more students interested in this option than HLS originally anticipated. With too little money to accommodate so many students, the school decided to cut the program altogether. You can read Dean Martha Minow's email here.
The law school will continue to offer financial assistance to students who take public interest internships and postgraduate positions. That said, in order to ensure that every student who pursues a public interest career has help, they are offering less money to each student. HLS will continue to offer its loan forgiveness program (the Low Income Protection Plan), and has created a fellowship that will fund one year or public service for a dozen graduates. Sadly, the innovative PSI program has been put on the back-burner for a while (after the current PSI students graduate), as administrators create a "successor initiative." Just another casualty of Harvard University's slashed endowment and this troubling economy.
-Posted by Rebecca Zissou
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