February 24, 2024

Almost 200 current and former Harvard Law School students signed onto a letter last week calling on the school to redistribute any savings it receives from President Joe Biden’s loan forgiveness program to alumni in low-paying jobs.

The Biden administration unveiled a debt forgiveness plan last month that will cancel loans for millions of American students. in a letter sent to Law School Dean John F. Manning ’82 on Sept. 6, HLS students and alumni said the Biden administration’s program could be “a massive windfall for Harvard.”

Since 1978, the Law School has sought to help graduates pursue lower-paying public service jobs through its Low Income Protection Plan. The program subsidizes annual loan repayment obligations based on the income of graduates in low-paying industries.

According to the letter, LIPP may see a decrease in expenditures since it “will no longer need to provide repayment assistance for the $10,000/$20,000 in loans that will be forgiven” or the interest that would have been accrued by those loans.

The letter called on Harvard to “redirect” the potential savings “to the community to which it was originally intended: indebted students and alumni” and “make public how it expects Biden’s forgiveness plan to affect its bottom line.”

The Law School’s Student Financial Services office wrote in a response to the letter’s signatories that the school will consider the letter in its annual planning process, which is “scheduled to kick off in the coming weeks and is expected to conclude in the spring.”

“Every academic year, Harvard Law School engages in a comprehensive and multifaceted planning process for the year ahead, through which data from a multitude of sources is considered,” the Law School’s response said.

“This annual budget process aims to ensure that all available resources are used to advance our school’s mission of teaching, research, and service; to help students thrive in law school; and to provide graduates with the freedom to pursue career options of their choice,” it added.

But the alumni who authored the letter said they felt the school’s response fell short.

“I think it was a very kind of boilerplate, noncommittal response that just kind of highlights how little transparency there is in who makes these decisions,” said Beth S. Feldstein, an HLS alum who co-authored the letter.

LIPP has long faced criticism and calls for reform from HLS alumni and students. In May, the school announced it would increase the contribution scale used to calculate the amount of subsidy offered to participants, marking the highest increase in LIPP’s 45-year history.

But Brendan R. Schneiderman — a 2021 HLS graduate who co-authored the letter and has led previous petitions to reform LIPP — said the program is failing to serve its original mission.

“People are really struggling and have been struggling for a couple of years,” he said. “And it seems like Harvard is just getting away with doing the bare minimum that it can.”

HLS spokesperson Jeff Neal wrote in an email that the Law School annually invests “significant resources” in LIPP and its financial aid program in order to make the school more accessible and allow graduates to pursue the career path of their choice.

“Annual spending on the Low Income Protection Plan has doubled in the past decade and has grown at more than twice the annual rate of the law school‘s budget overall,” Neal wrote.

— Staff writer Ryan H. Doan-Nguyen can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ryandoannguyen.

— Staff writer John N. Peña can be reached at [email protected].

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