There may be a lot of lawyers in hell, but there certainly aren’t enough working at nonprofit law firms. Enter Harvard Law School. America’s premiere university is trying a new plan to funnel recent graduates into public service jobs. The program – which waives third-year tuition in exchange for public service work – is meant to alleviate graduate students’ debt and increase the number of students choosing careers with the government and non-profit organizations. While the program has its flaws, the federal government and other universities should follow Harvard’s lead and implement similar tuition aid programs.
Announced Tuesday, the Harvard program will provide free tuition for a year to law students completing their third year in exchange for a commitment to spend five years after graduation working for the government, at a non-profit organization or in another public service sector. This aid program is one of a kind at American law schools. It hopes to bring well-qualified Harvard Law graduates into influential public service careers. Because the tuition provided from the program is direct aid – rather than a loan – it offers an incentive for students to commit if they want to avoid burying themselves in high-interest debt.
Always the trendsetter in higher education, Harvard is at it again. Career placement programs with financial incentives are a good way of attracting graduates to popular – yet extremely important – government jobs, as well as bringing in students who can’t necessarily afford an elite law school education. Between 2003 and 2006, only 9.8 to 12.1 percent of Harvard Law’s graduating class went on to work in nonprofit or government jobs. Instead of moving in six-figure-salary jobs, these talented students should be sharing their intellectual wealth. With endowments that rival the GDP of Samoa, these universities can help.
That’s not to say that this program is without its flaws. Students needing the financial aid are the ones attracted to this program and the ones who go into these public service jobs. However, this does nothing to push wealthier students into public service as well. If we are hoping to make these types of programs as meaningful as possible, students from all incomes must be involved.
While this program may have its pitfalls, the possible benefits are too great to overlook. Dually promoting public service work and an elite law school education will encourage students to receive higher education and contribute back to society – two things our country needs more of.
But to truly make an impact, this can’t just be an option at Harvard. The federal government should spearhead providing tuition waivers in exchange for public service commitments. By providing financial incentive, universities and the government will contribute to filling public service jobs with highly educated graduates – an achievement that will help better our government, economy and community.