Friday, December 04, 2009

Hey Harvard

I read that Harvard has abandoned its program that waived tuition in the third year for students committing to five years of public interest work.

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.


Blogger Ani Onomous said...

"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."

Another way of thinking about it is that students either want to do public interest work or they don't. This would suggest that monetary incentives don't matter and that compelling others to work in public interest may not be a good idea either.

Alternatively, Harvard students are sufficiently smart to realize that 40K is completely insignificant as compared to the potential drop in career income caused by a five-year, CV-veering commitment at the beginning of their careers.

12/04/2009 10:13 AM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

I am a sucker for words and how the suggest things that may pass by the reader on a conscious level. I am not sure anyone -- the Harvard plan or mine -- "compels" anything. It offers a choice. If every choice is something we are compelled to do, where does it end?

12/04/2009 11:11 AM  
Blogger The Mousetrap said...

Will making public interest work a condition of admission really work?

Why wouldn't every student agree to do public interest work and then simply pay damages if they got a better offer?

Isn't the offer of admission a Coase externality? The transaction costs of breaching the agreement and paying damages seem to be very low.

12/11/2009 10:23 AM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

Any student who had a change of heart could just pay tuition. I believe this would be restituion, not damages.

12/12/2009 6:11 PM  

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