Supreme Court Loan Forgiveness Ruling Confirms Mistrust Among College Students

Students anticipated they might not get debt forgiveness, but many are still stung by the court's decision.
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Matthew Arrojas is a news reporter at BestColleges covering higher education issues and policy. He previously worked as the hospitality and tourism news reporter at the South Florida Business Journal. He also covered higher education policy issues as...
Updated on July 7, 2023
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  • The Supreme Court rules against Biden's student loan debt forgiveness plan in a 6-3 decision.
  • A BestColleges survey found over half of the students would be angry or disappointed if the court overruled the program.
  • Less than one-third (32%) said they trusted the Supreme Court to make the right decision on loan forgiveness.
  • LGBTQ+ students, white students, women, and graduate students were more likely to distrust the Supreme Court.

President Joe Biden's student loan forgiveness plan was popular among enrolled college students, but the Supreme Court ensured students won't see that plan carried out.

A BestColleges survey of 1,000 current undergraduate and graduate students in March 2023 found that while most supported debt forgiveness, few were confident that the court would make the "right" decision.

Their lack of confidence was likely validated Friday when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to strike down Biden's debt forgiveness plan in a 6-3 decision.

"A part of me is surprised and a part of me isn't. I felt like it was 50/50," Selena Yaghoubi, a graduate student at the University of Oklahoma, told BestColleges. "When [the Department of Education] forgave debt for certain colleges not so long ago, that gave me some hope."

Under Biden's plan, borrowers making less than $125,000 per year, or couples making less than a combined $250,000, would have had $10,000 in outstanding debt erased. Those who received Pell Grants while in school were eligible for up to $20,000 in forgiveness.

An Expected, But Disappointing Result

Back in March, almost one-third of college students (32%) said they trusted the Supreme Court to make the right decision, and 37% said they did not trust the court, the BestColleges' survey found. The remaining third (31%) answered that they were neutral.

While trust was split, enrolled students were closer to a consensus on whether the federal government should offer blanket forgiveness on federal student loan debt.

Overall, 65% of students agreed that they supported some form of large-scale student loan forgiveness. Of those, only a third (33%) trusted the Supreme Court to make the right decision on Biden's loan forgiveness plan, tracking with overall student trust of the court.

Not everyone agreed with Biden's plan specifically, however.

About one-quarter of students surveyed (24%) said the Biden administration overstepped its authority, and 29% felt neutral.

Reactions to SCOTUS Blocking Student Debt Forgiveness

Student and borrower advocacy groups were unsurprisingly upset with the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

"Today, a majority of this corrupt court brushed aside the rule of law to advance its ideological crusade against working people," Mike Pierce, executive director of the Student Borrower Protection Center, said in a statement. "The high court is asking people with student debt to pay the price for decades of government mismanagement and industry abuses across the student loan system."

Pierce encouraged President Biden to use other tools, such as the formal rulemaking process, to cancel student loan debt.

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat representing New York, called on Biden to use powers under the Higher Education Act to erase debt.

President Biden announced Friday afternoon that he would do exactly this. He said the Department of Education initiated a formal rulemaking process using the authority granted through the Higher Education Act.

"I believe that the [Supreme] Court's decision to strike down our student debt relief plan is wrong," Biden said in a statement. "But I will stop at nothing to find other ways to deliver relief to hard-working middle-class families. My administration will continue to work to bring the promise of higher education to every American."

Negotiated rulemaking is expected to begin this fall, with the goal of completing the process “as quickly as possible.”