IN JUST THE PAST TWO decades Harvard Law School has made tremendous advances in promoting public interest and attracting those who may not wish to end up behind a desk at some firm in Chicago or Houston. The Low Income Protection Plan ensures that students are not forced into accepting an unwanted, but high-paying job in order to pay off years of being in the red, financially speaking. Opportunities open up when one does not have to only consider whether being debt free at age fifty while living the whole time in a studio apartment in New York City is worth being a public defender or an environmental lawyer.
Additionally, summer public interest grants allow students to work domestically and internationally in non-firm and even non-law settings. Students can complement their legal education with field experience in such places as Alabama or Vienna or in such organizations as the United Nations or the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. There is a tradition that is beginning to take hold at HLS that helping those students who may not be capable otherwise of working in a non-firm setting is good for the school’s image while also contributing to the student’s welfare.
With these goals in mind the Law School should seek to emulate the University’s policy of eliminating tuition for students whose parents make less than $40,000. The new undergraduate program that will be implemented this fall will greatly reduce the $37,928 students spend on tuition, room, board and fees for those least able to afford it. To quote President Lawrence Summers: “Too often, outstanding students from families of modest means do not believe that college is an option for them, much less an Ivy League university. Our doors have long been open to talented students regardless of financial need, but many students simply do not know or believe this. We are determined to change both the perception and the reality.”
The new policy will certainly go a long way to changing this perception at the University, and the same can be true for the Law School. The new Capital Campaign, with its goal of $400 million, provides the Law School with many options for expanding the physical presence of the school while upgrading facilities and hiring more faculty. But the Law School should also use the financial resources that will soon be at its disposable to entice students who come from less-than-well-to-do backgrounds with either free tuition or at least a reduced amount.
It is an unfortunate reality that many students were torn between coming to HLS or going elsewhere where after-graduation debt did not extend for five zeros. These are stories that HLS students share, which mean there are students who turned down HLS because of financial debt. This is unfortunate, but remedial.
It is obvious the Law School is dedicated to expanding its reach beyond the firm, as is evident with LIPP, summer public interest and the recent joint-degree programs and overseas opportunities. The Capital Campaign is far from over and there plenty of good ways the money can be spent. The Law School should consider among its planning options the tuition elimination program that the University has adopted.