As you are likely aware, President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 calls for Public Service Loan Forgiveness to be capped at the aggregate loan limit for an independent undergraduate student, which is currently $57,500. Given the significantly larger amounts that professional school students borrow, such a change, if enacted into law, would have a substantial negative impact on the ability of future lawyers, doctors, and other professionals to enter public service careers.
As a public institution with a public service mission, UC Hastings has a strong commitment to educating public interest and public service lawyers and facilitating their entry into the profession. It is said that 30% of 1Ls come to law school intent on public service work, while less than 5% of graduates actually go on to do so. Not so at UC Hastings. Preparing lawyers for this essential work is a core element of our mission: We ranked 18th in the nation (#1 among the UCs) this year, with 12.8% of our graduates going into public service.
We write today to ensure you are apprised of the president’s proposal. Know too that UC Hastings is monitoring the proposed changes closely and, along with many other law schools across the country, will advocate forcefully to protect the interests of students and alumni committed to public service.
Second, it is important to note that this is a nonbinding budget proposal. It is unlikely that this proposal would be made a bill and pass in its current form. It’s unclear exactly whom it would impact and when the cap would take effect. We cannot tell at this point, for example, how this budget would impact those currently in law school who are planning to dedicate themselves to public service. (Most observers believe any change would only impact new borrowers.)
What is – and has long been – clear to us is that there is a justice gap in our country. UC Hastings is committed to closing that gap. We are deeply concerned that the proposed cap would limit the number of people who will pursue careers in public interest and public service, further diminishing access to justice. Moreover, we believe the cap would disproportionately impact those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, have to borrow most heavily, and so often are the very lawyers most determined to effect change. We certainly recognize the need to control costs in higher education. We are doing that at UC Hastings. But we will work hard to ensure other approaches are explored that have less drastic impacts on public service.
In addition to monitoring this budget proposal closely, UC Hastings will continue to work with the ABA Section of Legal Education and the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) – two groups that were instrumental a decade ago in the establishment of the federal loan forgiveness legislation for lawyers entering public service – as well as all of you. Even as we have decreased our class size (and thus the tuition funds available for financial aid), we have increased the PICAP base budget for 2014-15. We will also soon be convening a group led by Provost & Academic Dean Elizabeth L. Hillman to review all financial aid. One goal of this group will be to ensure PICAP remains a financially sustainable program and a significant support to students and recent graduates committed to public service.
Students interested in advocating for the support of careers in public interest and public service are encouraged to connect with the Public Interest Coalition for Loan Forgiveness (PICLF), a subgroup of the Government Law Organization (GLO) formed recently with the purpose of coordinating and collaborating with various student organizations and administrators on campus to respond to President Obama’s budget proposal. The email for PICLF is firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to working with PICLF to preserve the feasibility of public service careers for current and future UC Hastings students and graduates.
Frank H. Wu, Chancellor & Dean
Nancy Stuart, Associate Dean for Experiential Programs
Ascanio Piomelli, Faculty Advisor of the Social Justice Lawyering Concentration