At Harvard Law, a Financial Incentive for Public Service

By Stephen Barr
Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Harvard Law School has a plan to encourage more students to enter public service. The school announced yesterday that it will pay the third year of tuition for students who pledge to work in government or at nonprofit organizations.

The initiative will save students who start their law classes this fall more than $41,000 in tuition. The school estimates that the program will cost about $3 million annually over five years.

"I want all of our students to have the ability to make public service their first choice after law school," Elena Kagan, the school's dean, said in a statement.

A number of colleges have expressed concern in recent years that too few graduates were choosing careers in government and at public-interest groups because of crushing educational debt. Many law school graduates also prefer to clerk for judges or take a high-paying job with a law firm than directly enter positions at government agencies and nonprofit groups.

From 2003 to 2006, the number of Harvard Law School graduates entering public service has ranged from a low of 54 to a high of 67, the school estimated, or 10 to 12 percent of the class.

Last year, leaders at 27 universities gathered at Princeton University to swap ideas on what it will take to bring a new generation into public service. Some studies show that public service is not attractive to young people, which could prove troublesome for the federal government as hundreds of thousands of baby boomers retire in the next few years.

Harvard described the initiative as the first program of its kind in legal education. Students will be asked to demonstrate a commitment to public service during their time in law school. Although the program is geared toward students entering the school this fall, current students will be eligible for smaller tuition grants of $5,000 and $10,000.

The school defines public-service work as any full-time job in government (federal, state and local and the military), any full-time job for a nonprofit organization and any full-time job for a political campaign. Up to one year of a clerkship can qualify toward the five-year commitment.

Like many schools, Harvard Law also offers a loan repayment assistance program for graduates who choose careers in government, public interest and higher education.

Bonuses for Some at HHS

The Department of Health and Human Services has decided to start the process for awarding 2007 merit bonuses for all employees except those represented by the National Treasury Employees Union.

The union and the department are in negotiations over a labor contract, "so HHS has decided to move forward with the process of paying performance awards and step increases to all other employees while the negotiations continue," said Bill Hall, an HHS spokesman.

Hall said he did not have an exact date for when eligible employees would receive merit awards or how many would receive payments but said the process had begun.

"Usually they are paid out earlier rather than later, and this is later than usual," he added.

Hall declined to comment on the negotiations, saying, "The department does not want to talk about this publicly."

HHS and the NTEU are trying to reach agreement on a contract that would cover six operating divisions in the department, including the Food and Drug Administration and the Health Resources and Services Administration. Previously, the union and HHS had six bargaining-unit agreements.

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the NTEU, said she thinks the negotiations will be resolved and that employees covered by the contract will get the merit pay. "NTEU will see that these employees get the money one way or another," she said, "but in the meantime, what kind of message does this send to these hardworking, high-performing employees who have earned these awards?"

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