The UC Davis School of Law is expanding a groundbreaking program to ease the debt burden of graduates whose passion for public interest law leads them to lower-paying jobs.
The law school's Loan Repayment Assistance Program provides annual interest-free loans to UC Davis graduates who take a qualifying job with a nonprofit or government agency. The loans must be used to help pay off law school, undergraduate or graduate school debt. The law school then forgives all or a portion of the loans, depending how much the participant earns.
Beginning January 2010, graduates who take qualifying jobs that pay $60,000 a year or less will be eligible for a loan, up from the previous salary cap of $53,000. Each loan will be forgiven at the end of the year, assuming the participant remains in a qualifying job, down from a five-year wait for loan forgiveness eligibility.
The program is supported by private donations and student fees.
Participants who continue to work in a qualifying job may reapply for the program for up to 10 years, the usual term for education loans -- meaning that participants who spend a decade in public interest law could erase all of their student loan debt.
Those who earn $40,000 or less are eligible for full annual loan forgiveness. Those who make $40,000 to $60,000 are eligible for partial loan forgiveness.
Graduates must apply for the program within three years of earning their law degree.
"Our law school has been in the lead in California in encouraging students to pursue careers in the public interest," said Kevin R. Johnson, dean of the law school. "This expansion comes at a critical time as low-income people struggle for access to justice. We hope that it will encourage more students to pursue their dreams of a public-interest career."
UC Davis law students currently pay $33,948 a year in student fees, up 19 percent from last year. The average UC Davis law graduate leaves school with $66,620 in debt.
Such debt is especially onerous for lawyers who want to pursue public service work. Entry-level public service jobs pay $35,000 to $70,000, while jobs with large private-sector firms start at about $160,000.
"Expanding our Loan Repayment Assistance Program is essential for students who are caught in a 'double vice' between low salaries at nonprofit organizations and hefty student debt," said Hollis Kulwin, senior assistant dean for student affairs. "These enhancements will allow more students to participate, provide critically needed support to graduates working in the lowest-paid public interest jobs, and allow participants to have more of their loans forgiven more quickly."
When the law school first established its Loan Repayment Assistance Program in 1990, it was the first of its type at a public law school in California. Since then, the program has provided more than $700,000 in assistance to 70 participants who have taken jobs at California Rural Legal Assistance, Legal Services of Northern California, Office of Clients' Rights Advocacy, the Fair Housing Law Project, the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, and the Sierra Club, among other public service organizations.
UC Davis School of Law has had a longstanding commitment to public service law. The school offers a certificate program in public service law and operates four legal clinics in which law students provide free representation for clients in immigration, civil rights, family protection and prison law. Nearly a quarter of UC Davis law school graduates go on to practice public service law.
UC Davis School of Law, also known as Martin Luther King Jr. Hall, ranks among the country's leading law schools. Known for its small size and dedicated faculty of internationally renowned scholars, its mission is to be a nationally and internationally recognized leader in the development and dissemination of legal knowledge and in the training of students to become socially responsible lawyers committed to professional excellence and high ethical standards.
About UC Davis
For 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matter to California and transform the world. Located close to the state capital, UC Davis has 31,000 students, an annual research budget that exceeds $500 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges -- Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science -- and advanced degrees from six professional schools -- Education, Law, Management, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.