Students pass through Sather Gate on the UC Berkeley campus. Credit: Kelly Sullivan

When Biden’s student loan forgiveness program was announced in August, UC Berkeley senior Aaron Hill thought he would graduate with less than $1,000 in debt

Now, after the Supreme Court struck down the program Friday in a landmark 6-3 decision that ruled President Joe Biden overstepped his authority in creating the program without Congress’s approval, Hill is one of many Cal graduates suddenly staring down $20,000 in student loans.

“It weighs on my mind all the time — the burden of student loans,” he said. But “when it’s the only path, you just have to take the loans out. There’s hardly another option.”

About a third of students from the University of California take federal loans, fewer than those who earn degrees from private universities and for-profit colleges. That number drops to about 15% at UC Berkeley, where the median loan for undergraduates is about $13,000, according to data from the US Department of Education.

Some in the UC Berkeley community immediately criticized the decision, which came one day after the court voted to overturn affirmative action, and the same day it sided with a website designer who refused to work with a gay couple. 

 “Yesterday the Supreme Court made it harder for anyone who isn’t white to pursue higher education. Today the Court made it harder for anyone who isn’t rich,” Robert Reich, UC Berkeley at Goldman School of Public Policy, wrote on Twitter. “Are you seeing a pattern?”

The UC Office of the President released a statement saying it was “disappointed” with the Supreme Court ruling: “This historic relief program would have made a significant impact on the lives of college graduates, particularly for those from low-income backgrounds who are more likely to take on debt to complete their education.”

Berkeley Councilmember Rigel Robinson is saddled with debt from his Master’s degree in public policy at UC Berkeley. The news didn’t come as a surprise to Robinson, but the news was still a blow. 

“Some time ago, I had absolutely been planning my life and finances around the delivery of this debt forgiveness plan,” he said.

“This painful week of rulings is further proof that we can either reform the court or face a century of regression and lost progress as a country.”

Until the 1970s, tuition was free at the University of California, the DailyCal reported. An educational fee of $150 was introduced, and tuition rose from there, becoming an essential part of the university’s budget. Student debt rose, though the loans weren’t as steep compared to the state’s private schools.

Students who attended the UC also have an easier time paying back their loans, defaulting at much lower rates than students who attended other universities, according to a report from the Public Policy Institute of California.

After a pandemic-related pause on monthly student loan payments, the first payment will be due Oct. 1. But there’s still a chance people could have their student loans forgiven in the future, or at least diminished.

The Biden administration announced it would challenge the decision under a different law, the Higher Education Act of 1965, though the new path could face similar legal challenges and end up before the same court again.

In the meantime, borrowers can enroll in an income-driven repayment plan, which is intended to set monthly loan payments at an affordable rate based on income and the number of people in your family. The latest draft of the plan could cut monthly payments by more than half, though it’s unclear how quickly the administration could get the system up and running. To find out if you’re eligible, visit the federal student aid website

After graduating from UC Berkeley in May, Hill began work as a public school teacher in Massachusetts through Teach for America. His plans to go to law school remain firm, though he questions whether he can afford the career in nonprofit law he wants. 

“I do hope to go back to school and rack up even more student debt,” Hill joked. 

Ally Markovich, who covers the school beat for Berkeleyside, is a former high school English teacher. Her work has appeared in The Oaklandside, The New York Times, Huffington Post and Washington Post,...