What Does Student Loan Debt Mean For Disabled People?

Yesterday, The Supreme Court rejected President Biden’s proposal to erase at least some student debt for tens of millions of borrowers, finding it went above the Education Department’s control.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in a 6-to-3 decision that a massive debt cancellation program of this magnitude required explicit congressional consent. Chief Justice Roberts stated that “the secretary of education’s power to “waive or modify” loan terms allowed for debt cancellation — was a vast overreach. “In the same sense that the French Revolution ‘modified’ the status of the French nobility,” he wrote, quoting a previous court decision.

Last August, President Biden offered to forgive $10,000 in debt for individuals earning less than $125,000 per year, or $250,000 per household, and $20,000 for those receiving Pell Grants.

Nearly 26 million borrowers have applied to have some of their student loan debt forgiven, with 16 million applications granted. Yet, due to the legal challenges, no debts have been erased. Additionally, new applications are not being accepted.

The decision, which came a day after the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action programs in college admissions, effectively ended what would have been one of the most expensive executive actions in United States history.

Student loan debt in the United States totals $1.774 trillion, more than credit card or auto debt. 43 million Americans have student loan debt, with the total average balance of federal loans being more than $37,000. The average balance of all loans is even higher, however at $40,505 With such a massive amount of debt, it takes an average American two decades to pay off their student loans.

For disabled people, it can be even more difficult to pay off student loans. According to a report published by The Pew Charitable Trusts, borrowers who reported a disability were much more likely to default (50%) than those who did not report a disability, (33%).

Data also shows that disabled borrowers have lower salaries and higher unemployment rates, which could make it challenging for them to repay their loans. Disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty than their non-disabled peers. Although some disabilities qualify borrowers for automatic discharge of student loans, others may have an undocumented disability or have been unable to properly discharge loans.

There are other disparities as well. According to a study conducted by Old Dominion University, Black disabled students had almost $6,197.21 more in federal student loan debt than White disabled students. Students who attended a private for-profit university owed approximately $13,053 more in federal student loans than those who attended a public university.

Disabled people deserve a college degree. Disabled people need to have barriers to higher education removed. The U. S needs to make college affordable for all people, especially disabled people.


Bullington, Kim, et al. ‘Above-Average Student Loan Debt for Students with Disabilities Attending Postsecondary Institutions’. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, vol. 35, no. 1, 2022.

Brucker, Debra L., et al. ‘More Likely to Be Poor Whatever the Measure: Working-Age Persons with Disabilities in the United States*’. Social Science Quarterly, vol. 96, no. 1, Mar. 2015, pp. 273–296, https://doi.org10.1111/ssqu.12098.

deVise, Daniel. “Student Loans Surpass Auto, Credit Card Debt.” The Washington Post, 6 Mar. 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/college-inc/post/student-loans-surpass-auto-credit-card-debt/2012/03/06/gIQARFQnuR_blog.html.

Hanson, Melanie. “Average Student Loan Payment” EducationData.org, May 30, 2023,

Hanson, Melanie. “Student Loan Debt Statistics” EducationData.org, June 29, 2023,

Liptak, Adam. “Student Loan Forgiveness: Supreme Court Strikes down Biden’s Debt Forgiveness Plan.” The New York Times, 30 June 2023, http://www.nytimes.com/live/2023/06/30/us/student-loans-supreme-court-biden#heres-what-to-know-about-the-student-loan-forgiveness-decision.


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