A report recently released by the Project on Student Debt, titled “Student Debt and the Class of 2009” states that college students who graduated in 2009 owe student loan debt amounting to an average of $24,000. The situation is worse for students continuing to pursue professional and advanced degrees. For example; law school graduates attending public school in the year 2008-2009 borrowed $66,045, while graduates attending private law school borrowed $100,001. These statistics were released by the American Bar Association’s Legal Education Statistics.
Aside from these grim statistics, government positions and public service salaries are not attractive. This becomes an alarming trend when people who desire to work in the public service cannot afford to do so due to stagnant salaries. A study conducted in 2001 by Equal Justice Works found that 66% of students with law school debt were prevented from taking on government and public interest jobs. For instance, civil legal aid lawyers at entry level earn $40,000 on average. Repayment of student debt under the standard ten year plan would require the student to pay a monthly payment of $863. This is nearly impossible at their income level. Even if a student has taken a 30 year plan, the monthly payment would still amount to $500 per month.
Student debt and law school tuition fees have escalated sharply with fewer students being able to take on public service positions at low paying salaries. A few law school graduates get into the public service but leave once they have gained a couple of years experience. This is at a crucial time when they are experienced enough to provide invaluable legal service to clients and employers. This has led to employers in public services finding it difficult to retain layers or recruit new ones. They have vacancies that cannot be filled because new graduates cannot work for paltry fees.
Let’s look at the consequences of graduates foregoing government and public work. For certain individuals it means giving up on their dreams of working closely with the community in either a school or non-profit organization. From a social aspect the non-profit and government sectors are unable to bring in and retain new graduates to do public work. This means that there will be fewer individuals working to improve care for the sick and elderly, provide education or preserve the environment. Ultimately, the most vulnerable and poorest in the communities suffer when these positions cannot be filled.
Fortunately, Congress passed two primary components in 2007 to assist students with their student debt. The Income Based Repayment plan substantially reduces monthly payments on student federal loans. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness offers total forgiveness on any federal loan once the student has made 120 monthly loan payments, working in a public service position. These two components have the capacity to relieve students of debt even amounting to thousands of dollars. The question on everyone’s mind is if these opportunities were provided a generation ago would you have taken the job of your dreams? Or is there more work to be done?