I appears that economic hardship required the change but the Harvard President is also quoted as saying they did not know how easy it would be to get Harvard students to go into public interest work.
On the other hand the Harvard Crimson reports:
"This year, 58 third-year students signed up for the initiative, which has a budget of $3 million per year for a five-year period ending in 2012, . . . About 50 to 60 students entered public service after graduation in previous years before the start of the tuition waiver."
If I am reading the numbers correctly it was a program that had little or no impact on the number Harvard grads opting for public interest work. So, what amounted to a $40,000 payment or an $8,000 a year bump to the public service salary appears to have been unpersuasive. Even by putting a $40,000 thumb on the scale, Harvard evidently could not compete with the big firms and the starting salaries for its grads.
I have and idea for every school that receives applications for qualified candidates in excess the spots available and wants students to "explore" (in the words of Harvard's President) the possibility of public interest work. But be careful what you wish for and do this only if you are serious. Don't reduce tuition. In fact, you might raise it for those with well-heeled moms and dads and even for those so desperate to go to to your school that for them no debt is too great. Just make 5 years of public interest work a condition of admission.