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Monday, April 14, 2008

Yale Law School Expands Public Interest Program, Financial Support for Graduates

Dean Harold Hongju Koh distributed the following statement to the Yale Law School community on April 14, 2008.

Yale Law School has always served the public interest. As Dean, I have regularly stated as one of my main priorities improving opportunities for our students to serve the public interest in whatever way they see fit. We have particularly pursued two priorities: creating and instilling a culture of public spiritedness that values lifelong public service, and ensuring that money does not become the decisive factor controlling career choices. At the start of my deanship, I convened a faculty-administration Public Interest and Financial Aid Committee to review our programs and to make recommendations about what we could do to increase opportunities for our students to engage in public service both during and after their time here. At about the same time, the students formed a group called the Public Interest Working Group to engage the administration on these topics. Deans Megan Barnett, Sharon Brooks, and Mark Templeton, among other administrators, have worked closely with the faculty and students to address this important issue.

I am pleased to announce today that everyone’s efforts have resulted in major changes that will not only enhance our public interest program at Yale Law School, but also improve our financial support for our alumni. Our conversations with our own students and graduates show that they are less interested in ad hoc financial incentives-- such as merit scholarships and tuition-free years-- and more interested in how financial support meets the realities of their post-graduate lives. Responding to these suggestions, we plan to improve our support for public interest in four ways:

1. Raise the COAP floors to aid middle-income participants
We are substantially increasing the amount of support provided through the Career Options Assistance Program (COAP), our loan forgiveness program. COAP is and has long been the most flexible of any loan forgiveness program at any law school. We remain committed to maintaining its leadership position among our peer schools. Our goal is to increase the financial support available through COAP to make it easier for our students to choose a public interest career. To that end, we are increasing the base income level below which participants do not have to make contributions to their law school loans from $46,500 to $60,000. Those COAP participants making less than $60,000 will no longer be expected to make contributions toward their law school loans while their salary remains below that level; those earning above that level will be asked to contribute a portion of their income above that level toward repaying their law school loans, with COAP covering the rest. In addition, we are raising the amount of undergraduate student loans eligible to be forgiven through COAP from $18,000 to $30,000. As is currently the case, COAP will continue to have generous deductions for dependents and childcare expenses. We pledge to support graduates in all stages of their lives, including those who are married or in a committed relationship. (More details on how this will affect current as well as future participants will be forthcoming from our financial aid office.)

2. Double the number of post-graduate fellowships
We are doubling the number of post-graduate public interest fellowships from 14 to 28. Our post-graduate fellowship programs have been much sought after. They have given our graduates the opportunity to work with public interest organizations at no cost to the organizations, to demonstrate their value, and to gain critical experience—essentially launching them on their public interest careers. These fellowships have also allowed our graduates to create innovative projects to serve the critical needs of underserved populations – needs that would not otherwise be met. Our existing post-graduate fellowship programs, that include Bernstein, Heyman, and Liman fellowships, have created an intergenerational network of public interest-oriented individuals. We expect that that network will expand exponentially as we double the number of fully-funded positions we provide. In some cases, we will consider adding a second year to an existing post-graduate fellowship, if it helps to secure a graduate’s employment with a worthy organization.

3. Provide dedicated public interest counseling
We are adding a full-time Director of Public Interest Programs who will help counsel students, provide additional programming, and coordinate and support the many public interest activities in the School. Our search is currently ongoing and we expect to select our new director in the near future. When hired, the Public Interest Director will report directly to Assistant Dean Sharon Brooks, and will collaborate with our students, faculty, alumni, and directors of our Clinics, centers, and other programs that have long been committed to engaging our community in leading public interest initiatives.

4. Increase funding for summer public interest opportunities
In addition, we will increase our funding for some international summer public interest opportunities, while continuing our generous funding for summer public interest work in general, our numerous and robust clinical programs, and our many centers to support the public interest—such as our Arthur Liman Public Interest Program, Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights, and China Law Center, to name just a few. To clarify the specifics of these changes and how they affect particular students and alumni, information sessions and counseling sessions will be held at the Law School over the next few weeks at times and places to be announced.

Yale Law School has a history rich in the tradition of public service, from graduates who have worked in the highest levels of government, to other pioneers who established or led public interest organizations. We hope that the changes we announce today will enable even more of our students to continue in this proud tradition.

These changes are designed to build on our existing programs to meet the long-term realities of our graduates’ working lives. In making these changes, we have held fast to our core values of consistency, flexibility, and equity in our efforts to promote public service during every phase of our graduates’ professional careers. By so doing, we hope to transform not just the lives of our graduates, but also the lives of the many clients and people they will lift through their work.