Law school enhances loan forgiveness program in response to tough economy
| 03 September 2009
BERKELEY — As part of a series of measures to help its students and alumni during the current economic crisis, the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law has significantly enhanced its Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP), already one of the nation's most generous loan forgiveness plans.
The program is designed to ease the financial burden faced by alumni who pursue public interest or government work, where salaries are significantly lower than in the private sector.
Beginning in January, the loan assistance program will provide up to 10 years of unlimited support for repaying law school student loan debt, and some undergraduate debt, for alumni who earn less than $65,000 per year working for non-profit public interest groups or government agencies. Previously, the amount of debt support was capped at $100,000 for alumni who earned less than $58,000 per year.
Law school graduates in qualifying employment who earn between $65,000 and $100,000 will continue to receive proportional benefits. The program also will now provide up to six months of support to participants on family leave.
The expanded program was made possible because of a new loan repayment option provided by the College Cost Reduction and Access Act. As of this past July, borrowers of federally-backed student loans can enroll in the act's Income-Based Repayment (IBR) plan, which substantially reduces their monthly loan payments.
The law school was able to piggyback its LRAP program onto the federal loan repayment plan to provide more coverage for graduates at a lower cost over time to the school. Berkeley Law's 10-year old program is funded through a combination of professional degree fees paid by its students and by alumni donations being generated during the law school's ongoing capital campaign.
"The loan assistance program is a vital component to fulfilling our mission as a public law school," said Berkeley Law Dean Christopher Edley Jr. "This latest improvement further enables our public-minded graduates to pursue their career passions unburdened by debt. It's imperative that we give them the financial freedom to help the disadvantaged and to contribute to the advancement of the broader community."
Participation in Berkeley Law's new program option will be contingent upon an individual's enrollment in the IBR plan. Qualifying 2009 graduates will start receiving payments in January; payments also will be applied to any previous Berkeley Law LRAP participant still working in the public sector who qualifies for support.
Jobs that qualify under the loan assistance program include, but are not limited to, prosecutors, public defenders, military Judge Advocate General corps, legislative staff and administrative agency positions that involve substantial use of legal skills, require passage of the bar or otherwise draw heavily on law school training.
Judicial clerkships intended to last two or more years also qualify, and Berkeley Law recently added one-year clerkships to the bundle of jobs covered by the program if the graduate then works for at least three years in other qualifying employment.
For 2007 Berkeley Law graduate Rebecca Hart, a legal fellow at the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York, funding from this program is essential for her continued work as a public interest lawyer.
"I wanted to go to the best school that gave me the most opportunity to pursue public interest work after graduation," said Hart, who spent five years at Human Rights Watch and received a Fulbright Fellowship before law school to examine abuses against indigenous women in Guatemala. "Berkeley was the obvious choice, and LRAP was a big part of that."
Having graduated with more than $130,000 in law school loans, Hart said she's thrilled that Berkeley Law is lifting its $100,000 cap for zeroing out loan payments: "That'll make a huge difference for me and many others. It really solidifies Berkeley Law's place as a national leader in actively supporting students who want to make a difference."
Through the graduating class of 2012, LRAP participants can choose between receiving support according to the current program guidelines or the revised ones. Starting with the graduating class of 2013, all participants will receive support for only federal student loans, and IBR enrollment will be required.
"We've spent a lot of time and energy overhauling our financial aid program to ensure that Berkeley Law remains accessible to every qualified student," said Dennis Tominaga, the school's assistant dean for financial aid. "About 90 percent of our students receive some form of assistance, and LRAP plays a significant role in that."
Other measures taken by Berkeley Law to help students weather the economic crisis include:
- Assisting students in securing health insurance coverage during periods of unemployment or deferral from a secured position in the private sector
- Ramping up career development office staffing, outreach to small- and medium-sized firms, and government and public interest advising resources
- Launching a post-graduate career development and financial planning program for third-year students and webcasts ranging from job search skills to practice area specialties
- Doubling the number of post-graduate Bridge Fellowships available to third-year students who have not secured employment by graduation
- Increasing options for repaying student loans and accepting applications for short-term loans for graduates facing exceptional financial hardship due to the economic climate
- Earmarking additional funding of up to $500,000 to support the Summer Public Interest Fellowship Program over the coming year