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March 19, 2008

Harvard's Move--Why Don't More Graduates Choose Public Interest Jobs?

Jonathan Glater reports in the New York Times that Harvard Law School has offered to eliminate third-year tuition if a student promises to work five years in the public interest (clerkships included):
Concerned by the low numbers of law students choosing careers in public service, Harvard Law School plans to waive tuition for third-year students who pledge to spend five years working either for nonprofit organizations or the government. The program, to be announced Tuesday, would save students more than $40,000 in tuition and follows by scant months the announcement of a sharp increase in financial aid to Harvard’s undergraduates.
Glater reports that only 10% of current graduates from Harvard Law go into nonprofit organizations or the government:
From 2003 to 2006, as many as 67 and as few as 54 of the 550 students graduating from Harvard Law went to work for a nonprofit organization or the government. That translates to 9.8 to 12.1 percent of the graduating class. A vast majority of students have chosen to join law firms, where they can earn well over $100,000 a year immediately after getting their degree.

Dean Kagan rightly worries that many may be choosing lucrative law firm careers because of the debt load they carry. And this move is certainly clear and helpful in reducing debt .

There are, of course, concerns other than finances that might motivate graduates to choose private law careers, at least in the first few years, over public interest careers, even if they might prefer to work in the public interest:

(1) Training--public interest and government careers may not offer adequate training because they may lack the resources--and the economies of scale--available to large law firms.

(2) Lack of jobs--for every job in the public interest, there are a score of private sector opportunities; there simply are not enough public interest jobs for everyone interested in taking on such jobs.

(3) Long term livelihood--public interest jobs may not provide sufficient income to enable one to support a family, especially so in major metropolitan centers of the country.

Many schools, including Harvard, already have in place loan forgiveness programs by which the institution repays your debt for the years you spend in public service after school. UC Davis and Yale have particularly generous programs in this regard, and I'm sure Harvard's loan forgiveness program would equal them.

I wonder if this move would actually save Harvard money by reducing interest repayment charges for graduates choosing public interest careers.

Stanford Dean Larry Kramer offers this comment:

“This is an interesting move,” Larry Kramer, dean of the law school at Stanford, said of the Harvard initiative. Compared with other loan repayment assistance programs, Mr. Kramer said, “It’s unclear whether it is more generous.” It may be, he said, that loan forgiveness over a longer period of time may encourage more students to go into public service and stay there. He added that it would take time to see how students reacted to the program.
Anupam Chander

March 19, 2008 in Money. money, money | Permalink


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Tracked on Mar 19, 2008 6:28:46 PM


Does running for President count as a public-interest job?

Posted by: Anne | Mar 21, 2008 10:58:31 PM

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