Professor Warren and third-year student propose plan to reduce college debt through public service

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren

As college tuition rises, and with it the amount of debt students have after graduating from college, Harvard Law School Professor Elizabeth Warren and third-year student Ganesh Sitaraman are proposing a new program that would help students pay down their debt if they promise to give back to their country or community. They are calling their plan Service Pays.

“A vast majority of young people say they would be more involved in public service after college if there were a program like this. What holds them back is that they can’t afford it,” said Sitaraman in a Harvard Law Today profile published earlier this spring. “I think we have a bold idea that could help educate the next generation of leaders, create transformative experiences for young people, reinvigorate the idea of public service and address real challenges facing the nation.”

Warren and Sitaraman’s proposal, co-authored with Sandy Baum, a senior policy analyst for the College Board, would allow students who work in community service after college the opportunity to have one year of college expenses forgiven for each year of public service work completed.

Despite the fact that 97 percent of Americans agree that a college degree is “absolutely necessary” to secure a place in the middle class, the over-burdened middle class is having a hard time paying for their kids’ college education, say Warren and Sitaraman. An estimated 20 to 30 percent of college students have debt burdens so high that they are difficult to manage.

For more information, click here to download a copy of their proposal as it appeared in the Boston Federal Reserve and here to download their article published in the Harvard Law and Policy Review.