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The Path to Student Loan Forgiveness

July 06, 2023

Prof. Cary Coglianese says “the only sure-fire way to deliver comparably massive student loan debt relief will be to secure approval of Congress.”

At Newsweek, administrative law and regulatory policy expert Cary Coglianese, Edward B. Shils Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science, discussed the potential legal hurdles facing President Biden’s revamped student loan forgiveness plan.

Biden’s newly announced program comes in response to last week’s Supreme Court ruling in Biden v. Nebraska, striking down his previous student loan forgiveness program.

Coglianese’s full statement to Newsweek is as follows:

The Supreme Court last week went out of its way to send a resounding message that should offer little comfort to the 40 million student loan borrowers who had been counting on debt relief. Six justices will simply not countenance executive action to cancel hundreds of billions of dollars of student loans.

Cary Coglianese, Edward B. Shils Professor of Law Cary Coglianese, Edward B. Shils Professor of LawAlthough last week’s Court decision was based on the HEROES Act, a law passed 20 years ago, it is hard to see the same six justices taking any more favorable view of a similarly massive debt cancellation program under the Higher Education Act, an even much older statute but one containing language not markedly different from the HEROES Act.

To be sure, there exist permissible ways for the Department of Education to make more modest adjustments to student debt obligations, such as by tweaking certain payment terms or targeting more limited pools of borrowers. Some of these more limited changes are reflected in the Administration’s “Plan B” and are likely to help some borrowers. But it would be unrealistic not to expect the most substantial forms of relief in any Plan B to give rise to new litigation.

After the Supreme Court’s decision last week, the only sure-fire way to deliver comparably massive student loan debt relief will be to secure approval of Congress. The ultimate financial fate for the more than 40 million borrowers who were expecting loan relief under the Biden program could rest with what happens in the 2024 election. If control of at least one house of Congress, or the White House, rests with Republicans after 2024, student loan debt relief will be nothing more than a pipedream.

Coglianese is the Director of the Penn Program on Regulation. He has produced extensive and pathbreaking scholarship on a range of regulatory issues and has consulted with regulatory organizations around the world. He was a founding editor of the peer-reviewed journal Regulation & Governance and also created and continues to serve as the faculty advisor to the PPR’s flagship publication, The Regulatory Review.

Read the full article at Newsweek.

Read Coglianese’s statement on the questions remaining about the “major questions doctrine” after the Supreme Court’s student loan decision.