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Georgetown University Law School, in a move that I hope is copied by every other major law school in this country, has announced a plan under which graduates who are employed in the public or non-profit sectors for 10 years, and who make less than $75,000 per year, can have 100% of their student debt forgiven.  Those who make somewhat more than $75,000 for a portion of this period can have something less than 100% of their loans forgiven.

I began law school in 1973, a little more than 3 years after graduating from college.  Even given the relatively modest (by today's standards) cost of going to law school back then, I was unwilling to incur the kind of debt that would have been required to attend law school full time.  Fortunately, I lived in the Baltimore area, in which the University of Maryland Law School is located, and it had (and still has) an evening division which is taught primarily by the same faculty who teach the full-time day students, and was able to attend law school at night while continuing to work full-time.  I was therefore able to graduate from law school with no student debt (and in fact with a little money in the bank, even after having made the down payment on a modest townhouse),

After a dozen years with a small law firm and a brief period with the Maryland Attorney General's office, I spent the last 15 years of my career before my retirement at the U.S. Department of Justice.  While there, I interviewed many young lawyers who very much wanted to work in the public sector, but who were struggling with the combination of the high cost of living in the D.C. area, the relatively low (compared to private firms) rate of pay for government lawyers, and the ruinous payments on their student loans.  Some of these people decide they simply can't afford public service, and others decide they CAN afford it at least for a while, but then, after they get married and have the first child on the way, decide that they've got to pursue the vastly bigger bucks in private firms, because they can't simultanously make their mortgage payments, the auto loan payments, their student loan payments, and afford to feed a family in the D.C. area.  I KNOW, from personal experience, that the federal government (and state and local governments and non-profits) have lost some of their best potential advocates because those people simply can't afford to make their student loan payments and other expenses on the salaries those organizations offer.

This move by Georgetown was made possible, in signficant part, by the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, the principal sponsor of which was George Miller (D, CA-7), which limited payments on student loans to 10% of a student's income.  After 10 years, Georgetown is forgiving whatever is left.  For those who favor boycotts of Democratic campaign organizations, I would point out that in the House, ALL Democrats who voted were in favor of the legislation, and more than 75% of Republicans opposed it.  In the Senate, ALL Democrats again supported the legislation, and 18 Republicans still opposed it.  It was signed into law by President Bush, but at that point, it had become fairly clear that a veto would be overridden.

I hope this move is imitated not only by other major law schools, but by the major undergraduate institutions, and especially by medical schools. It should be a major source of national shame that college students can't afford to become teachers because their student loan payments won't permit it, or that medical students can't become primary care docs in underserved areas because they can't make enough to repay their student loans by doing so.

I am convinced, having spent my career divided more or less equally between the private and public sectors, that the least expensive means of improving our national well-being would be to make it possible for more of our "best and brightest" young people to enter the public and non-profit sectors.

Here is a link to Georgetown's thoroughly commendable announcement:

Originally posted to leevank on Mon Nov 16, 2009 at 07:36 PM PST.

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