The Supreme Court justices deciding whether to axe Biden’s student loan relief program paid an average of $42,539 to go to college. Today, they’d have to pay around $320,531.
Posted For: MugsMalone
The Supreme Court in the coming months will decide whether President Joe Biden’s student-loan forgiveness program can stand and potentially offer relief to millions of borrowers or keep them saddled with the debt.
On Tuesday, the High Court heard oral arguments on the loan forgiveness plan, with the conservative justices, who hold the majority, questioning if Biden had the authority to enact widespread forgiveness.
In August, Biden announced plans to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for federal borrowers making under $125,000 a year. Republicans have pushed back against the measure, and several lawsuits have tried to block it.
The court’s ruling would impact the lives of millions of student loan borrowers including the 20 million borrowers that the White House estimates would have their balances completely wiped out. But according to historical tuition data, the price of college has changed astronomically since the justices were in school.
Four of the nine justices graduated throughout the 1970s, a time when the average student loan debt was around $1,000, according to data from the research group The Education Data Initiative. By 2021, the average student debt at graduation was around $31,000, the group reported, citing federal data.
According to EDI, there was a 2,807% increase in the average student loan debt at graduation between 1970 and 2021 before adjusting for inflation. The debt was still a 317% increase after accounting for inflation.
The overall cost of college tuition and fees soared 1,200% since 1980, Insider previously reported. Adjusting for inflation the cost to attend a public university in the US at that time was just $1,856.
While each of the justices went on to get advanced law degrees, here’s how much a four-year undergraduate degree at their elite, private alma maters would have cost when they graduated and what it would cost at those universities today:
- When Justice Clarence Thomas finished his undergraduate degree at The College of the Holy Cross in 1971, the estimated cost of attendance for four years was $14,550, according to a research memo from the progressive-leaning advocacy group Take Back the Court. Now, a four-year degree would cost $299,920.
- A four-year degree at Princeton University would now cost about $318,160 over four years. That degree only cost $15,040 when Justice Samuel Alito graduated in 1972. The cost of attendance was $21,900 in 1976 when Justice Sonia Sotomayor graduated and $41,055 when Justice Elena Kagan graduated in 1981.
- Justices John Roberts and Ketanji Brown Jackson both graduated from Harvard. The cost to attend the prestigious university is an estimated $337,652, according to Take Back the Court. When Roberts graduated in 1979, it cost $21,400; in 1992 when Jackson earned her undergraduate degree, it would have cost $75,360.
- When Justice Brett Kavanaugh graduated from Yale as an undergraduate in 1987, it would have cost an estimated $57,990. Now, four years at Yale would cost around $338,100, according to the memo. A year later, in 1988, Justice Neil Gorsuch would graduate from Columbia University, costing an estimated $64,900 for four years. Now that cost is around $343,868.
- In 1994, when Justice Amy Coney Barrett graduated from Rhodes College, the four-year cost of attendance would have been around $70,664. Today, four years would cost around $273,112.
While the cost of getting an undergraduate degree has significantly increased since all nine justices graduated, several of them appear to understand the impact of rising tuition fees.
In his 2007, memoir Thomas discussed the “crushing weight” of student debt that he was still paying off from his law school days when he was appointed to the bench.
Additionally, according to the justice’s own financial disclosures, as well as reporting from The Associated Press, some of the justices have put aside large investments for their own children’s college funds. Four of the seven justices who have children have invested in tax-free college savings accounts for their children. The AP reported that Roberts had at least $600,000 invested in an account for his two children, while Gorsuch has at least $300,000.
A ruling on the program is expected in June, but so far conservative justices have expressed concerns over the executive overreach, Insider reported.
“We’re talking about half a trillion dollars and 43 million Americans,” Chief Justice John Roberts said, referring to the estimated costs of Biden’s plan and the number of affected borrowers.
He then posited to Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, “How does that fit under the normal understanding of ‘modifying’?” — referring to the Biden administration citing the HEROES Act of 2003, which is a federal law that grants the education secretary the ability to “waive or modify” student-loan balances in connection with a national emergency, like COVID-19.
The chief justice noted that the court has previously defined “modify” as “moderate change,” and speculated whether the law’s language can also be applied to broad student-loan forgiveness.
Prelogar told Roberts: “It couldn’t have surprised Congress one bit that in response to hardship posed by a national emergency, the secretary might consider similarly providing discharge if that’s what it takes to make sure borrowers don’t default.”