In Washington, the current administration has proposed eliminating PSLF. Recently, Representative Todd Rokita (R-IN4), with cosponsor Alcee Hastings (D-FL20), introduced H.R. 2725, the “Student Loan Lower Interest Rate and Lower Monthly Repayment Refinancing Act of 2017,” which proposes capping loan forgiveness at $57,500. While eliminating PSLF would be devastating for our public servants, capping the program at this level would be only marginally less harmful to our public sector.
For example, in the legal field served by Equal Justice Works, a survey conducted by the National Legal Aid and Defender Association showed that about half of the 2,007 lawyers in the survey would not have taken their current public sector position, or would leave for a position with a higher salary, if this cap was put in place. This would leave the country without the legal aid and public defenders vital to ensuring access to justice for everyone in our legal system. Attorneys in other sectors, like prosecutors, would greatly decrease as well.
Ensuring PSLF works for graduate and professional students is not just critical to the legal profession. Many professions require or rely on graduates with professional or graduate degrees to fill crucial positions, such as teachers, doctors, therapists, social workers, physical therapists, nurses, and many others. Nonprofit and governmental institutions that rely on people with these degrees would face recruitment and retention problems that parallel those in the legal field.
Capping PSLF at an amount that limits its utility for graduate and professional students is shortsighted for other reasons as well. First, graduate and professional students are proportionately more likely to work in the public sector than those with only undergraduate degrees. Forty-eight percent of full time workers age twenty-five to fifty-nine with graduate and professional degrees work in the public sector.
Second, a study done by Equal Justice Works has shown that after ten years, the average graduate and professional student borrower will have repaid 91 percent of the amount they initially borrowed, while the remaining balance forgiven is largely interest on the original loans. Given the economic benefits provided by the public sector, it is clear that investing in graduate and professional students should be a big deal for the federal government.
Although H.R. 2725 doesn’t completely eliminate PSLF as the Trump administration is calling for, the cap on loan forgiveness would still cripple the public sector. You can help defend PSLF by signing up here to stay up-to-date on important legislative updates and learn how you can take action to protect PSLF.
Equal Justice Works provides support to public interest attorneys, and helps law students learn more about all aspects of managing their student debt. We have a debt relief newsletter, free student debt webinars, an informative website, and a free student debt e-book, Take Control of Your Future.
Brandon Hanson is the Student Debt Specialist at Equal Justice Works, where he helps students, lawyers, and law school professionals manage their student debt through education, outreach, and policy analysis. Brandon is a graduate of the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis and the University of Iowa, and has worked with political campaigns, non-profit organizations, and state government.