Faced with increased enrollment and rising loan costs, the Yale Law School is scaling back its loan forgiveness program.
The Career Options Assistance Program, which partially subsidizes tuition loan payments for Law School graduates should they enter relatively low-salary careers, will require a larger student contribution from members of the incoming and future classes than it currently does. Law School Associate Dean for Finance and Administration Brent Dickman said the change reflects the more conservative budget projections the Law School has made since the recession, and was designed to sustain the program’s quality. Still, five students admitted to the Law School class of 2015 said the policy changes will have little impact on their decision of where to attend law school, as Yale’s program remains among the most generous in the country.
COAP is designed to encourage Law School alumni to pursue public service careers, though the program does not limit participation to specific career paths.
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Under the previous policy, law school alumni who earn less than $60,000 in their postgraduation careers are eligible to have their loans payments fully subsidized by COAP, while those earning more than $60,000 are expected to contribute a quarter of their income above that baseline. The new policy sets the baseline salary lower, at $50,000, and expects participants to contribute varying percentages of their income toward loan payments, based on a sliding scale of income brackets. For alumni with adjusted incomes over $80,000, for instance, COAP expects a contribution of $6,750 in addition to 60 percent of the income exceeding $80,000.
“This is the only situation where we have to think about how much a student will cost us 13 years down the road,” Dickman said. “We’re really just trying to protect the program long-term.”
Changes to the program will not retroactively apply to any current students or alumni who are participating, or may be eligible to participate, in COAP.
Romy Ganschow LAW ’12, who said she plans to work in public service next year and participate in COAP, said she was glad the new policies would not affect her. Ganschow said she has heard of other law schools that apply changes to loan forgiveness programs to current students and alumni.
Dickman said COAP’s spending has increased by roughly 5 to 9 percent annually as more alumni enrolled in the program and the value of loan repayments grew as well. But the growth in COAP spending was outpacing growth in Law School revenue, which is based on tuition dollars, donations and endowment income. In the long term, Dickman said COAP expenditures would form a “larger and larger” portion of the Law School’s budget, which he said would make it more difficult to sustain other programs.
Spending on COAP currently constitutes 3.5 percent of the Law School’s annual budget, at $3.5 million per year. The money comes from the Law School’s $961 million endowment — which allocates several hundred thousand dollars to the program — as well as general Law School funds.
Asha Rangappa LAW ’00, Law School associate dean of admissions and financial aid, said she does not expect the new policies to affect this year’s admissions yield. While the changes make the program less generous, she said it still remains high among loan forgiveness programs at law schools nationwide and does not place restrictions on students’ career choices.
Still, Rangappa said the new, bracketed approach was more difficult to explain to prospective students.
“It’s harder to make an elevator pitch,” she said.
Five students recently admitted to Yale Law said the loan forgiveness program’s policy change would not impact their decisions of where to matriculate.
Nicole Fearahn, a recent admit, said in a Tuesday email that, for her, the changes to COAP’s offerings do not outweigh many other points in Yale’s favor.
Students have 10 years after graduation to begin participating in COAP.
Correction: Feb. 13
The chart accompanying a previous version of this article stated that students could remain in the Law School’s COAP program for ten years from the date of entry in the program. In fact, students can use COAP for up to ten years, but those years do not have to be consecutive.