New Education Bill Could Put Law Degree Out Of Reach
A pending education bill could potentially put a law degree out of reach for low income students, if passed.
Law.com reports that law deans, professors, and several interested parties gathered last week at Florida International University College of Law to the pending bill.
“Our concern is that this cap would disproportionately impact students from low-income families and students of color,” Nancy Conneely, director of policy at AccessLex Institute, tells Law.com
What the Bill Changes
According to Law.com, the Higher Education Act reauthorization bill would make a number of changes to graduate federal loans including:
- Eliminate public service loan forgiveness, which allows law graduates in public interest jobs to keep their monthly payment manageable and see their federal loans forgiven after 10 years.
- Do away with income-based repayment, which lets federal loan borrows cap their monthly payments at around 10 percent of their income, and see their loans forgiven after 20 or 25 years.
- Cap federal graduate loans at $28,000 annually, instead of allowing students to borrow the full amount of tuition, living expenses, books, and fees as determined by their individual programs.
Joe Patrice is an editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. He argues that such changes have several implications for law education.
For one, Patrice says, it’d make the law education available to solely those who could afford it.H
“Of course, there will still be granola-munching young lawyers committed to serving the public good, willing to tough it out despite the massive loan payments with only their paltry income and a trust fund to see them through,” Patrice writes. “Not to besmirch the affluent do-gooders of the world — their service is admirable — but the public service sector shouldn’t have to limit its talent pool only to lawyers a generation removed from people who contributed to the crisis in the first place.”
The biggest hit, Patrice says, would take place in the government.
“While we don’t always think about the public sector when we think public interest, those government lawyers have also sacrificed better-paying work to serve,” Patrice writes. “Obviously, there will always be a social climber ready to take a prosecutorial gig, but the ranks of, say, the EEOC aren’t going to get filled if lawyers can’t figure out how to do their job and make rent.”
The Bill Would Change Loans
The pending bill would also essentially cap loans at a certain amount.
Chris Chapman, president of AccessLex Institute, a former private student loan provider and nonprofit organization that now advocates for greater access to law school, tells Law.com that since the bill is pending, Senate would negotiate limits and perhaps end up with a $40,000 annual cap. Yet, experts say the loan market has changed dramatically over the years and having a cap could make it more difficult for applicants to borrow money to attend law school.
“Fewer applicant loans are approved now, versus then,” Grant Carwile, managing director of S L Capital Strategies, tells Law.com. “For all lenders, the approval rates nationally for private loans tend to be somewhere around 20 to 30 percent. That means 70 percent of the people who apply for a private loan are not eligible.”
Connely warns that the bill could send public service loan forgiveness down a slippery slope.
“We have concerns about what [the program’s elimination] would do to the communities that are served by the people who expect to get public service loan forgiveness,” she tells Law.com. “Those tend to be communities that are very rural, or very urban. These are folks who are low- or middle-income and can’t afford an attorney. It will exacerbate the justice gap that already exists.”
Sources: Law.com, Above The Law