Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Pandemic Shines Spotlight On Harvard Law School's Clawback Of Need-Based Financial Aid From Summer Earnings Of Rising 2Ls And 3Ls

WBUR, How A Law School Financial Aid Policy Has Some Students Crying Foul:

Harvard Law School (2021)Surviving the pandemic was stressful for Harvard Law School student Stacey Menjivar and her family. Her parents took a huge financial hit when everything shut down last year.

Both of her parents lost their jobs in March of 2020. Her father worked in construction and her mom works in a school cafeteria.

"My mother has begun working again, but she still is being paid the wage that people are paid when you don't have a high school diploma," she said.

Menjivar thought that, this summer, she'd finally be able to help her parents financially after all the sacrifices they made to get her to law school. She took a summer clerkship, a lucrative job for law students that can pay upwards of $30,000 per season.

But then she remembered that Harvard would be first in line for much of that salary, thanks to the rules of her need-based financial aid package.

"None of this has been easy," said Menjivar. "And to now tell me that when my parents need the most help, I can't help them because you need my money and you need this income?"

This policy is known as a "summer contribution," and it’s not a new thing. It's common practice among several U.S. law schools that offer need-based financial aid. Under the policy, when you accumulate more wealth through your highly paid summer job, you’re able to contribute more to your education. The policies vary, but at Harvard Law School, summer contributions usually require students to contribute about 90% of their summer salary after taxes and an $8,200 living allowance is subtracted.

While Menjivar said she understands the reasoning, it still feels harsh during the pandemic, especially for low income and first generation students. "It's insensitive and it is inequitable," added Menjivar.

Officials with Harvard Law School said they couldn’t comment specifically on Menjivar’s case. But in an email said they're giving renewed attention to how they support low income and first generation students. They also said a new grant program is aimed at helping students with the highest financial needs after the pandemic. ...

Experts familiar with the legal education industry say summer contributions have been a pain point for a while. But schools are starting to respond. ... Leaders with the nonprofit AccesLex add that while this debate isn’t new, the pandemic has brought it into a very sharp focus.

Harvard Law School, Student Contribution from Summer Income:

The 8-Week Work Requirement
To ensure equity in setting student contributions from income, Harvard Law School expects that students seeking financial assistance will work a minimum of 8 full-time weeks during the summer and will save a substantial portion of their income, less taxes paid and a standard summer living allowance, to contribute toward their education expenses. ...

Since eligibility for HLS Grant assistance is directly related to the student contribution from income, Student Financial Services will assess an imputed student contribution for students who do not meet the 8-week work requirement. It would be unfair for a student to decide not to work and as a result receive a larger grant than a student who did work the required 8 weeks. ...

Contribution from Income Formula (Single Student Only)
Students applying for law school assistance should plan to contribute a portion of their summer income towards their educational expenses for the upcoming academic year.

                Summer 2021 Gross Income (max. 12 weeks)
Less:       Taxes (see below to estimate taxes)
Less:       Base Summer Living Allowance ($8,200 in 2021)
Less:       Income Protection
Equals:  Student Contribution From Income

WBUR, Consider This: A Law School Financial Aid Policy Has Some Students Crying Foul:

The pandemic has put a disproportionate financial strain on low-income and first generation medical and law school students.

Money has been tight for many of these students and their families over the past year, resulting in some tension around the financial aid policy called “summer contribution.”

Consider This cohost Paris Alston speaks with WBUR senior education reporter Carrie Jung.

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