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Doing Right by Doing Good

LRAPIn its first year, a program that helps Tufts graduates working in the nonprofit and public sectors pay off their student loans is making its mark.


First her family called, then her boyfriend, then her boyfriend's parents. In all, six people called or sent Courtney Boen, A06, MPH07, a Boston Globe article about a new Tufts program. All agreed: this is perfect for you.

Even if Boen hadn't had such an attentive group of family and friends, she would have learned about the Loan Repayment Assistance Program from emails she got from Tufts. Better known as LRAP, the program encourages students to pursue careers in public service by helping them pay off student loans incurred while going to Tufts. Recipients receive money from the program based on their income and the amount of their outstanding loans.

LRAP has just completed its first year—a successful one by all accounts—helping alumni remain in jobs they feel passionate about. Believed to be the first university-wide program of its kind, more than 400 graduates, ages 22 to 37, applied for assistance, and about 300 received funding. Their public service careers range from teaching disadvantaged students and working with disabled veterans to helping end hunger.

LRAP is funded by income from the Omidyar-Tufts Microfinance Fund, which was established with a gift from Pierre Omidyar, A88, and Pamela Omidyar, J89, who share, along with Tufts, a strong commitment to active citizenship.

Judi Kennedy, the program's coordinator, says there is nearly $500,000 available annually for LRAP grants, and she hopes additional contributors will donate to the program so that more alumni can be helped.

"I'm definitely pleased with how the first year of the program went," she says. "I met a couple of the applicants, and just hearing their voices, I could tell they were happy and grateful, and that's key."

Kennedy says those alumni who did not receive assistance did not meet the criteria for the program, which include working for a nonprofit or public-sector agency. The number and size of awards depends on the number of applications received and the funding that is available. Applicants may reapply to the program each year. Applications for next year's round of funding are due on September 1.

President Lawrence S. Bacow is a strong believer in the program, recognizing the difficulty of pursuing a career in public service when salaries and benefits may be lower than jobs in the for-profit sector. "Every student who graduates with a loan worries about how to pay it off," he says. "We hope this program will make it easier for our graduates to pursue their passions and make a difference in the world."

The Right Decision

The fledgling LRAP is already making a difference in the lives of the first-year recipients. Not only did the money help them repay loans, several say, but they are pleased that Tufts is demonstrating that it truly wants its graduates to pursue public service careers.

Boen earned her undergraduate degree in community health and sociology and a master's in public health. She is a policy analyst for the Boston Public Health Commission's Center for Health Equity and Social Justice, which works throughout New England to eliminate regional and ethnic disparities in accessing quality health care.

Faced with $47,000 in education loans, Boen says she was "thrilled" to get LRAP funding. It's a "huge help," she says. "Making a decision as an 18- or 19-year-old, you're not thinking about being in your mid-20s and paying loans off over a long period. For me, it's definitely making things a lot easier."

While Boen opted for a career in public service before LRAP was established, she says the program "reaffirmed that I made the right decision. Tufts had been preaching a global view and teaching about the greater good, and this shows they stand behind alumni who made that choice."

LRAP

Jolanda Porter, A06, says she hopes LRAP will encourage alumni who might have gone into other work to try public service.

"It's nice to see that our school is acknowledging us," says Jolanda Porter, A06, who has been working for nonprofits since she was 18. Porter, now 25, is a program coordinator for exalt, a New York-based agency that works with youth between the ages of 15 and 20 who are in the criminal justice system, sometimes because of fairly minor incidents.

"We're trying to yank them out of their situations and put them in the real world where they can thrive," says Porter. The young people enter a five-week program, followed by an internship that aims to give them both practical and emotional tools to further their education or careers.

Porter graduated from Tufts with an education debt of about $19,000; she notes the university "gave me a big helping hand" in terms of financial aid. After graduating, she took several nonprofit jobs in Boston and New York. She moved to New York in part to pursue her musical career—she sang at her Tufts commencement and is an aspiring singer-songwriter. She hopes to begin a mentoring program for young people that includes music.

She says she hopes LRAP will encourage alumni who might have gone into other work to try public service. "We need a lot more people of color doing this," she says. "I'm a black woman, and I think what I do is three times as important because I look like some of the kids I'm serving, and I show them a college education is relevant for them." (continued)

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Feature written by Marjorie Howard, Senior Writer, Office of Publications.

Boen photo by Joanie Tobin, University Photography. Other photos courtesy of the subjects.

This story originally ran on Apr. 27, 2009.