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May 02, 2006

More LRAP: GW needs a real endowment

Once I get started, I just can't stop. But I'm thinking more about GW's LRAP. In a way you could say I came to GW only b/c of its LRAP b/c I only applied to schools w/LRAPs. That means if GW hadn't had an LRAP, it wouldn't have been on my list and everything would have been different. So I have always planned to get a job that qualifies for the LRAP and I hope to be able to take great satisfaction in the fact that GW will end up paying back some (I hope large) portion of my loans.

I've known from the beginning that as far as LRAPs go, GW's is no great shakes—barely funded, very restrictive in what jobs qualify, etc. But its great advantage is that almost no one uses it. GW grads almost never go into public interest law (the average is 1% of each class) so they almost never qualify for the LRAP. That means that even though it's barely funded, odds aren't bad that those few that do qualify will get money. Last year GW funded everyone who qualified for the LRAP at 100% of what they qualified for. I believe that is true for several previous years, as well. So that's great. The only problem is that available funding changes every year. The LRAP has an “endowment” of only $15,000, meaning there are virtually zero dollars dedicated to the program. Instead, most of the LRAP money comes from alumni donors and, recently, class gifts.

One hundred percent of last year's generous class gift went to the LRAP and they were able to fund everyone who qualified. This year, we have to split our class gift between LRAP and incoming student scholarships. One reason for that is that our new Dean has publicly expressed disdain for the LRAP several times; it's not a priority for him. I don't know how much say he has over where class gift money goes, but I know his antipathy toward the LRAP cannot be a good thing for its long-term health. With so little institutional support, is there going to be any money for people like me next year? The year after that?

Yet, solving this problem would be so simple. If 100% of class gifts for the next 5 years went toward the LRAP endowment (not to payouts, but to the principle), then in 5 years the endowment would go from $15,000 to $500,000. The interest alone on that endowment would probably be enough to fund most if not all of LRAP requirements. In fact, that's what should have been done before the school ever started claiming to have an LRAP. If it would be so easy, why not do it now?

Posted May 2, 2006 03:00 PM | 3L

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Having worked on building an endowment, I can say that there are a few conceivable problems with your solution. First, if all gifts to the LRAP go to the endowment, no gifts are available to fund students going into public interest. For five years, there would be no LRAP, and that would probably kill it.

Second, the endowment may be considered "fully funded" already. If, when it was established, it was only intended to be a $15,000 endowment (which is absurdly small, but possible, I suppose), further fundraising would have no purpose. If the institution classifies the funds as complete, there's no institutional pressure to keep putting money into the endowment.

Of course, the final problem may be that it's not an endowment at all--you did put it in quotes. If that's the case, it should be fixed *right now.* Endowing funds is the best way to make sure they continue for perpetuity as well as to guarantee that enough money gets poured in to establish a strong enough base for yearly withdrawals to be made. Maybe that's the best solution--push for an official endowment, gather up some law firm sponsors, and fully fund the damn thing.

Posted by: kristine at May 2, 2006 03:58 PM

"The LRAP has an “endowment” of only $15,000, meaning there are virtually zero dollars dedicated to the program."

My understanding was that the endowment delivers 15K a year, not that it consists of 15K total.

Posted by: gr at May 2, 2006 05:02 PM

gr: Well, that does make more sense, doesn't it? I'm sure you're correct, which would mean the endowment itself is substantially bigger than $15k. That's reassuring. Still, it wouldn't take much to make it even bigger.

kristine: Our public interest student group puts several thousand dollars each year into the endowment, so it's not like it's closed to contributions. If it's already large enough to produce $15k/year, LRAP recipients could continue to get funded at more or less current levels while each year the class gift could put many thousands of dollars toward the principle, yes? But you're right about the institutional problems -- if fundraising people at GW don't see this as a priority they can create a problem. That's exactly what I think is happening now. The institution does not think this is important. They're happy to benefit from the good PR that comes from saying "we have an LRAP!" but they don't seem to see a need to make sure that LRAP is healthy enough to be meaningful. If only I ran the world...

Posted by: ambimb at May 2, 2006 05:55 PM

what are lraps? this is probably a really elementary question....

Posted by: ap at May 2, 2006 06:04 PM

ap: LRAP stands for Loan Repayment Asssistance Program (or variations on that them). It's generally a program run by a law school and sometimes by a state or employer that helps graduates pay back student loans. Different LRAPs work differently, but generally they require that you have a low-paying (variously defined) job in a public interest area (again, variously defined). Depending on how it works the LRAP will pay your monthly payments or a portion of them, or give you a payment at the end of the year to pay you back for whatever you spent on your loan payments that year, etc. So LRAPs are obviously awesome things for people who take low-paying jobs in public interest fields (like me). Of course, for it to matter I still have to get a job! ;-)

Posted by: ambimb at May 2, 2006 08:18 PM

It really irks me how so many law schools underfund LRAP programs. My law school operated pretty much the same way as yours. It almost makes you wonder if schools deliberately give public interest students the short end of the stick to gently nudge them to the high-paying Biglaw route (which brings in more alumni $$$). Or am I just being conspiracy-minded?

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Posted by: topicstarter at October 16, 2006 10:53 PM

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