To: Northwestern Law Community
From: Dean Daniel B. Rodriguez
Re: The Interest Freedom Plan (IFP)
Date: Tuesday, April 28
I am delighted to share with you news of a novel, yet practical, program that will address directly the issue of student debt for an important subset of our graduates. Arising directly out of our Law School’s recent strategic planning process, this initiative, dubbed The Interest Freedom Plan (IFP), serves as our pledge to recent graduates who initially pursue less traditional and lucrative positions in the private sector that their loans will not accrue interest and, therefore, will not increase in amount during their first year in repayment.
The success of Northwestern Law graduates in the marketplace is well documented and, happily, the overwhelming majority of our students are employed, upon graduation or soon thereafter, in positions that enable them to begin tackling their educational debt. However, for a small number of our students, short-term post-graduate circumstances prove more challenging. Thanks to our Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP), students who enter the public sector can get some relief. And, beginning today, students who are less able immediately to pay down their debt because of either temporary unemployment, or employment at a lower level of salary than is typical for Northwestern graduates, will be assisted by Northwestern as well.
Here are the general parameters of the way in which the IFP program will work:
§ The Law School will cover law school student loan interest payments for up to one year for any graduate whose anticipated annual salary is less than $85,000 and whose position is in the private sector and does not otherwise qualify for our LRAP program.
§ Beginning with our Class of 2015 JD program graduates, we are committed to offering this program for at least the next three years (through the class that will graduate in 2018).
§ The benefit period will begin 6 months after graduation - the month student loans enter repayment - and continue for up to 12 months.
§ Unemployed graduates will be eligible to participate provided they fulfill certain requirements such as a minimum number of ongoing meetings with their career advisor and demonstration of an active job search.
§ The program does not apply to students employed in judicial clerkships.
§ To participate, students must provide proof of employment and repayment status in the form of documents such as an offer letter, tax returns, proof of loan repayment, etc.
§ The $85,000 salary cap represents just slightly over half the median starting salary for our graduates who enter the private sector. It is by no means a poverty wage, but it must be understood in the context of law students’ overall debt burden, which can be substantial after (at least) seven years of higher education.
§ For illustrative purposes, a $100,000 loan on a 10-year repayment plan at 7% interest equates to an annual benefit of $6,773. A $150,000 loan generates an annual benefit of $10,160.
The Interest Freedom Plan is the latest in a series of Northwestern Law initiatives to address the structural shifts that have occurred and are occurring in the delivery of legal services. Indeed, while very few law schools have as high a percentage of recent graduates obtaining associate positions in our nation’s most elite law firms as Northwestern, the reality, too, is that a larger number than in the past must consider a diversified range of options beyond Big Law. For some, job searches may be extended while others will decide to initially pursue comparably less lucrative positions in secondary regional markets, in smaller firms, or with a growing number of alternative legal services providers. We cannot ignore these circumstances; and our students need to know that the faculty and administration have their backs.
This financial commitment to the well-being of our students - a commitment that is on the order of magnitude of more than $1,000,000 all told - reflects the larger objective of Northwestern to make a meaningful dent in the debt burdens of our students.
Northwestern Law School is committed to welcoming and educating students regardless of financial condition and circumstance. Student debt potentially impacts student learning, career choice, and overall post-graduate well-being. We are dedicated to assuaging these concerns with tangible and constructive efforts.
The Interest Freedom Plan is no panacea, to be sure. But it joins forces with our significant augmentation of both merit- and need-based aid (which we have doubled over the past four years); is built on an edifice of record-breaking external support of our alumni and friends; and follows our tempered tuition increases (the second-lowest over the past five years among elite law schools). These financial investments matter to our students. They matter to our law school.
Thank you to the many members of our community, including students, faculty, and staff, for their hard work and ingenuity in helping to bring this program to fruition. We will circle back with further details as they become more refined in the coming weeks.