the tuition fees when the Supreme Court Justices graduate

  • The Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments supporting Biden’s student debt relief.
  • The court could decide to quash the plan, which would benefit millions of Americans.
  • The cost of a bachelor’s degree was significantly cheaper after graduation than it is now.

The Supreme Court will decide in the coming months whether President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program can stand and potentially relieve millions of borrowers or keep them burdened 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 whether Biden had the authority to issue a sweeping forgiveness.

In August, Biden announced plans to forgive up to $20,000 in student debt for federal borrowers earning less than $125,000 a year. Republicans have balked at the measure, and multiple lawsuits have attempted to block it.

The court’s ruling would affect the lives of millions of student loan borrowers, including the 20 million borrowers whose credits the White House estimates would be completely wiped out. But according to historical study data, the price of the college has changed astronomically since the judges were at the school.

Four of the nine judges graduated in the 1970s, a time when the average student loan debt was about $1,000, according to research group The Education Data Initiative. By 2021, the average student debt at graduation was about $31,000, the group reported, citing federal data.

According to EDI, the average student loan debt at graduation increased 2,807% between 1970 and 2021 before adjusting for inflation. After accounting for inflation, the debt was still 317%.

Clarence Thomas in 1991.

Clarence Thomas in 1991.

Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis/Getty Images

The total cost of college tuition and fees has increased 1,200% since 1980, Insider previously reported. Adjusted for inflation, the cost of attending a public university in the US at the time was only $1,856.

While each of the judges earned graduate law degrees, here’s how much a four-year bachelor’s degree at their elite, private alma mater would have cost if they had graduated, and what it would cost at these universities today:

  • If Judge Clarence Thomas After he received his bachelor’s degree from the College of the Holy Cross in 1971, the estimated cost of attending four years was $14,550, according to a research memo by progressive advocacy group Take Back the Court. Now, a four-year degree would be $299,920 cost US dollars.
  • A four-year degree at Princeton University would now cost about $318,160 over four years. This degree cost only $15,040 at the time Judge Samuel Alito graduated in 1972. The cost of attending was $21,900 in 1976 Judge Sonia Sotomayor graduates and $41,055 should Judge Elena Kagan 1981 high school diploma.
  • Judges John Roberts and Ketanji Brown Jackson both graduated from Harvard. The cost of attending the prestigious university is estimated at $337,652, according to Take Back the Court. When Roberts graduated in 1979, it cost $21,400; In 1992, when Jackson got her bachelor’s degree, it would have cost $75,360.
  • If Judge Brett Kavanaugh If he had 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, Judge Neil Gorsuch would graduate from Columbia University at an estimated cost of $64,900 over four years. Now that cost is around $343,868.
  • 1994, when Justice Amy Coney Barrett After graduating from Rhodes College, the four-year course cost would have been around $70,664. Today, four years would cost around $273,112.

    supreme court

    Student loan borrowers gathered before the Supreme Court today to tell the court that the January 2, 2023 student loan exemption is legal.

    Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for We, The 45 Million

While the cost of a bachelor’s degree has increased significantly since all nine judges graduated, some of them seem to understand the impact of rising tuition fees.

In his 2007 memoir, Thomas discussed the “crushing weight” of the student debt he was still paying off while still in law school when he was called to the bank.

Additionally, according to the judiciary’s own financial disclosures and reports from The Associated Press, some of the judges have set aside large investments for their own children’s college funds. Four of the seven judges who have children have invested in tax-exempt 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 decision on the program is expected in June, but so far conservative judges have raised concerns about overdoing the executive, Insider reported.

“We’re talking half a trillion dollars and 43 million Americans,” Chief Justice John Roberts said, citing the estimated cost of Biden’s plan and the number of borrowers affected.

He then said to Attorney General Elizabeth Prelogar, “How does that fit under the normal understanding of ‘change’?” — referring to the Biden administration citing the HEROES Act of 2003, a federal law that gives the Secretary of Education the ability to im “waive or amend” student loan balances in connection with a national emergency such as COVID-19.

Noting that the court had previously defined “modify” as “moderate change,” the chief justice speculated whether the law’s language could also be applied to wide-ranging student loan forgiveness.

Prelogar told Roberts, “It would not have surprised Congress in the least that, in response to the plight of a national emergency, the Secretary could similarly consider relief when needed to ensure borrowers do not default. ”

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