Harvard Law School Dean John F. Manning ’82 has approved several changes to the school’s Low Income Protection Plan, a program that helps HLS graduates who work in low-paying legal careers pay back their student loans.
The enhancements — approved last month — include expansions to certain leaves or periods of unemployment, increases in dependent care allowance and childcare expenses, and a rise in the LIPP Participant Contribution Scale, which determines how much LIPP participants pay towards their student loans according to their incomes.
“The LIPP enhancements were the result of many people working together to make reasonable and sustainable changes,” Kenneth Lafler, the Law School's assistant dean for student financial services, wrote in an email. “The proposals ultimately suggested by the Coalition to Improve LIPP were themselves the result of a process of refinement through numerous meetings with the staff of Student Financial Services.”
Lafler also wrote that a survey designed by the Law School's Student Financial Services helped inform the alterations. The survey garnered input from almost 2,000 alumni, according to Lafler.
The Coalition to Improve LIPP, a group formed last year by Law students, released a series of proposed changes to the program in early 2018. Many of the enhancements Manning approved are almost identical to the changes the coalition suggested. In one example, the overall transition time between jobs during which LIPP participants may still receive assistance tripled from eight to 24 weeks.
Participants will initially receive 12 weeks of transition time — a change the coalition suggested. LIPP graduates can earn an additional 12 weeks as they enter their fifth year of the program, which slightly differs from the coalition’s proposal to allot an additional two weeks of transition time per every six months that a participant remains involved with the initiative.
Rachel Sandalow-Ash ’15, a second-year Law student and president of the coalition, said the changes form “an important first step” to improving the LIPP program.
“It’s clear that the Financial Aid Committee and Dean Manning did really listen to and consider the proposals that the Coalition to Improve LIPP, along with the 38 student groups that supported these proposals, brought to their attention and that they implemented things that are really going to help people,” Sandalow-Ash said.
She said the group is excited about the expanded transition time, as well as increases in the dependent care allowance and childcare expenses.
“We think this is a welcome recognition of the fact that childcare is really expensive and constantly becoming more expensive, and we very much hope that this change will enable more LIPP participants to be able to have families if that’s something they want to do,” she said.
The increase in dependent care allowance allows for $8,000 per child, up from $6,000 for the first child and $3,600 for each additional child. This matches the proposal put forward by the coalition.
The allowance for child care expenses increased “to cover actual documented child care expenses of up to $20,000 per child, from the current allowance of 10% of total family income per child,” though “the existing 10% allowance per child will still apply” for LIPP participants who have a family income over $200,000.
Still, Sandalow-Ash said there is more to be done. She specifically criticized the changes to the payment contribution scale.
“The changes in the participant contribution scale barely accounts for inflation, if at all, so we’ll definitely be urging the administration to take action on that — to lower the student debt burden facing graduates every month,” Sandalow-Ash said.
In response to criticism regarding the contribution scale, Lafler wrote that the Law School has increased benefits by 15 percent every year and that “thoughtful planning and budgeting” goes towards ensuring that LIPP “remains strong.”
“Many other law schools have been forced to significantly reduce their loan repayment assistance benefits over the past several years,” Lafler wrote. “We do not ever want to be in this position at HLS, which is why we must make sure that changes to LIPP are carefully considered and measured so that HLS can continue to provide the same benefits to all graduates of the J.D. program.”
Correction: Sept. 7, 2018
A previous version of this article misstated the increase in dependent care allowance and incorrectly indicated that the increase did not exactly match a proposal put forward by the Coalition to Improve LIPP. It has been updated.
—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.
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