Thursday, December 03, 2009

Public Service and Harvard and the Students Admitted

In this blog I have been tough on what I label elitist law professors. To some extent this carries over to students at elite schools. I am aware, though, that many of those students are piling up massive debt and forgong substantial income to attend those schools. There students, not their well-heeled counterparts, have a chance not to become part of the elites. I know several people who attended these fancy schools who I do not regard as elitists.

I was thinking about this for the first time in a long time when I read that Harvard was abandoning a program that waived a year's tuition for those committed to doing public service work. The theory is that public service work means less income and greater difficulty paying off loans.

The article I read, here suggests the move is to deal with financial problems. Maybe that is the case. But there is other interesting information. Harvard admits 550 students a year. According to the article 50-60 students of a graduating class of presumably close to 550 entered public service before the tuition waiver program. After the program the number signing up was 58. Of course some may enter public service without applying for the waiver but these numbers seem quite low. It also tells me something about the wealth and income of Harvard grads. The program, if I understand it correctly mean what amounted to a $40,000 payment to Harvard students if they would agree to do five years of public service. Or you could say that Harvard was adding $8000 a year to whatever income the grads would make in public service jobs. Yet it appears there were virtually no takers. By that I mean there were no people lured to public service by the $8,000 a year payment. If the money simply went to people who were destined for public service already, it was a waste of money.

Nice try Harvard, I guess. But I would suggest you are paying too much attention to economic theory and not enough to the types of students you admit. If you are serious about a public service committment, why not make the committment a condition of admission for a certain percentage of the class.