More than 100 Harvard Law School alumni and current affiliates have signed an open letter calling for changes to the school’s Low Income Protection Plan, which subsidizes loan repayments for graduates pursuing public interest jobs.
The program, primarily intended for graduates who work in government, nonprofits, or academia, has come under scrutiny in recent years from recipients who say the program failed to grant them sufficient support.
The open letter — released Wednesday by a group of Law School alumni and addressed to HLS Dean John F. Manning ’82 — proposes several changes to LIPP that would “make it consistent with Harvard’s claim that it prioritizes financial independence for its student and alumni communities.”
The letter requests that HLS amend the program to fully cover student loan payments for graduates earning a salary of $90,000 or less. Currently, participants who earn more than $55,000 are required to contribute a limited portion of their income to LIPP payments.
In addition, the letter calls on LIPP to “change how assets and cost-of-living are accounted for,” as the program incorporates home value and retirement savings in determining payment amounts and does not account for high health care costs.
Finally, the letter urges HLS to “make spousal considerations fair.” Under the current version of the program, if a graduate earns more than their spouse, their payment amounts are not decreased, despite a potentially increased financial burden.
“While we hope HLS will act immediately to support public interest alumni in making the above improvements to LIPP, we expect an express commitment to do so by March 1, 2023,” the letter reads.
The program allows participants to use the lowest valuation on their home and considers any “extenuating circumstances” when calculating loan repayment aid, HLS spokesperson Jeff Neal has previously told The Crimson.
In an emailed response to the letter obtained by The Crimson, HLS Assistant Dean for Student Financial Services Natasha D. Onken explained that the school “engages in a comprehensive and multifaceted planning process” each academic year when planning the budget.
“The perspectives you have shared, alongside many others, will be considered in the broader context noted above,” Onken wrote. “As decisions are finalized regarding the school’s plans for next year and beyond, they will be shared directly with affected community members.”
In response to a request for comment, Neal provided The Crimson with the same statement issued by Onken.
This action follows a November 2022 open letter by HLS affinity groups and student organizations demanding that the school improve both LIPP and “front-end” financial aid.
Brendan Schneiderman, a 2021 HLS graduate and the primary author of the letter, said his goal was to hold the school accountable.
“Alumni are suffering with people moving wedding plans around because of their inability to meet their loan payments, or people staying in jobs that they are uncomfortable with or unsatisfied with because leaving would impact their loan situation,” he said.
Neal has previously pointed to assistance programs at peer institutions, which also consider spousal income and assets.
According to Schneiderman, prospective students who feel reassured by Harvard’s claims of LIPP’s generosity are often surprised when they learn about the technicalities of the program.
“We have made clear through our organizing that we will no longer tolerate HLS’s bait-and-switch,” the letter reads.
Following calls by students and alumni, HLS announced plans in May 2022 to increase LIPP benefits due to increased inflation.
Still, Schneiderman said this reform does not address claims in the letter that LIPP is less generous than loan repayment assistance programs at peer law schools.
“If Harvard is going to claim to be on par from an academic perspective with schools like Yale and Stanford, then it should also be on par with them in terms of its support for public interest fields,” he said.
—Staff writer Jo B. Lemann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Jo_Lemann.
—Staff writer Neil H. Shah can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @neilhshah15.