Stanford Law scraps all tuition for low-income students, joining Yale

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The university logo is displayed at Stanford Stadium at Stanford University in Stanford, California, May 9, 2014. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach

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  • Students with family income below 150% of poverty line will be covered
  • School to spend $3.1 mln more annually on enhanced financial aid

(Reuters) - Stanford Law School this week became the second elite U.S. law school to commit to fully eliminating tuition payments for low-income students.

In an email Wednesday to students, Dean Jenny Martinez announced a series of new financial aid measures, including full-tuition scholarships for current and incoming students whose family income is below 150% of the poverty line. That works out to $41,625 for a family of four, or $20,385 for an individual.

The school will cover tuition payments for those who qualify starting next year. Annual tuition at Stanford Law is currently $64,350.

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Yale Law School announced a similar program in February, with full-tuition scholarships for students with family incomes below the poverty line and whose assets are below $150,000. At the time, Yale Law Dean Heather Gerken said she hoped to spark a wider movement away from merit-based scholarships based on Law School Admission Test scores and undergraduate grades and toward need-based financial aid.

Martinez told students that Stanford Law’s financial aid improvements are a byproduct of the school’s effort to improve diversity, equity and inclusion at the school and the work of a special committee focused on financial access. Altogether, the school expects to spend an additional $3.1 million annually on the financial aid improvements, which is being generated through fundraising, the larger university, and resource reallocation, she wrote.

A law school spokeswoman said the school doesn’t yet have an estimate of how many students will qualify for the new full-tuition scholarships because it is still finalizing its incoming class. Yale Law, which is similar in size to Stanford, predicted its program would cover 45 to 50 students a year.

In addition to the scholarships tied to family income, Stanford will provide a $3,000 supplement for travel and relocation costs for first-year students receiving need-based scholarships. It will also fully fund a minimum of 12 post-graduate public interest fellowships.

The school also unveiled changes to its Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP), which helps graduates in lower-paying public interest jobs repay their students loans. Beginning next year, it will cover all student loan payments for graduates in qualifying jobs making less than an annual $75,000, up from the previous threshold of $50,000. Graduates who earn more than $75,000 will make student loans payments on a sliding scale, with higher earners contributing more.

Finally, Stanford Law is increasing the funding students receive to take public interest legal positions over the summer from $7,000 to $7,500 for first-year students, and $8,000 to $8,500 for returning students. It’s also increasing hourly pay for law students hired as legal assistants from $18 to $20.

“Improving and enhancing financial aid support for our students has been one of my top priorities since becoming dean of the law school,” Martinez wrote in her message to students.

Read more:

Yale Law says it will cover tuition for low-income students

Stanford Law conference celebrates legal ethics titan Deborah Rhode

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com