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March 20, 2008


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The switch from a rebate (in which tuition is paid then forgiven) to a giveaway (in which no tuition is paid) may significantly increase the number of students that take public interest jobs.

Sure, the ultimate cost to the students may be the same (zero), but the marketing people tell us that free tuition will be much more attrctive than $40,000 tuition (with $40,000 rebate). Imagine Apple either giving away Ipods or selling Ipods at regular price with an immediate offsetting bank account credit. The lines are bound to be longer with the giveaway.

Also, students that are given tuition may be more committed to their public service obligations than those who paid tuition and are working to get it forgiven. We know that people will (strangely) work much harder for a charity if given a t-shirt rather than cash to buy the t-shirt of their choice. Similarly, I expect that students that are given tuition will more faithfully meet their public service obligations than students that pay tuition and seek to have it rebated through public service.

Uzair Kayani

Hi Professor Posner,

It is unclear from the note whether the interest charged on the forgivable loan (if any) would be equal to the "interest" charged on the deferred tuition. If the two add-ons are different, we have a problem.

Also, it is unclear whether the hassles (transaction costs) of getting the grant and getting the loan are similar. If person A offers me $40,000 for filling out five forms and person B offers me the same for giving my word, I pick B every time. Ease of entry may affect students' willingness to do public interest work. This is speculation, of course.

Joan A. Conway

When Harvard grants tuition concessions to one student but fails to provide this to another student renewing a loan, a question may arise as to whether discrimination exists. An examination of contract law, along with some relevant case law on education, is important in assessing the feasibility of a discrimination claim against Harvard under such circumstances.

Harvard may be able to follow the court's reasoning in some cases that have failed to justify granting negotiated loan concessions to some students but not to others. Arguably, Harvard who grants concessions to a student who negotiates, but not others because they failed to negotiate, has a legitimate business reason.

However, this argument is tenuous. First, if Harvard only negotiates with nonprotected class students and refuses to negoiate with protected class students, such actions may show a direct discriminatory intent. Second, the student may show circumstantial evidence if Harvard negotiates with all students, but only nonprotected class students receive the concessions. Third, if a protected class student shows that Harvard's business reasons are merely pretextual, Harvard may be liable for violating the law(s).

Hence, if Harvard is going to negotiate a loan or loan renewal, they should give all students an opportunity to negotiate the terms of the loan or the renewal to avoid any potential claims of discrimination.

Michael Machen

This new program saves HLS money since they will no longer have to pay interest on 3rd party loans (40K for five years at 7% costs $16K in interest). Although I suppose this may cost HLS money if they put tuition into their 20% return endowment...

I am curious to know how HLS will enforce repayment if an alumni accepts the tuition waiver and then decides the day after graduation to go to a big firm job. A LRAP handles this situation fairly well, but ex ante forgiveness would seem to be more problematic from an enforceability standpoint.

Also interestingly most of these students will likely be in the HLS Loan Repayment plan for their 1L and 2L loans as well as the remainder of their 3L loans. Seems like a financial aid administrator headache since the $$ likely has the same effect. There will surely be situations where an alumnus is ineligible for one program but in good standing with the other; Yikes.


I'm more interested in another issue raised by loan forgiveness or tuition waiver. To be sure, fundingone program or the other (or both) should encourage Harvard law students to take relatively low paying public interest jobs. But these programs won't themselves increase the number of those jobs. Is there some reason why it is good to have more people from Harvard (as opposed to other schools) in those jobs?

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