ABA Prez Lauds Tuition Relief, Seeks More Help

President Bush has signed a tuition aid bill that could help law grads struggling with high student debt.

The College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 permits loan forgiveness after 10 years of service to government agencies or nonprofit organizations, recently reported. The bill also helps low-income grads through a program that limits loan repayments to 15 percent of “discretionary income.”

The Associated Press story focuses on how the new law will help low-income students. But an opinion editorial by ABA President William H. Neukom highlights the benefits for law grads, while calling for passage of legislation that goes even further.

“Many public-service law offices are in crisis, because salaries for new lawyers are too low to pay off staggering education loans,” he writes. “Vital service jobs are going unfilled, or are subject to high turnover.”

Many grads have debts greater than $80,000 for combined law and undergraduate studies, he says. He calls the new loan forgiveness program “a fair offer” but says the 10-year commitment may be daunting for some.

“Congress should close this gap” with new tuition relief programs, he wrote. He endorsed the Higher Education Amendments Act of 2007, which would provide direct loan payments to new lawyers who work at least three years as prosecutors, public defenders or legal aid lawyers in some areas of the law.

“Many elected prosecutors and heads of public defenders’ offices say these recruiting tools are critically needed to help make these positions competitive in the marketplace for new graduates,” he said.

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