Student debt, affirmative action decisions deter students from college – USA TODAY

The Supreme Court on Friday ruled against a plan to provide mass student debt relief, clinching a series of decisions that Americans of color say makes colleges seem even less welcoming and accessible than they did before. 
A day prior, the high court ruled against the consideration of race in college admissions, a practice that a data analysis by the college-search website College Rover shows has helped make elite college’ demographics more reflective of the nation’s racial makeup.
Taken together, students and advocates say, the decisions reinforce those obstacles and the sense that U.S. higher education is an exclusive club. 
“It feels like the barriers are going back up for us,” said Angelique Albert, who oversees Native Forward Scholars Fund, the largest provider of scholarships for the country’s Indigenous students. 
Shortly after the Supreme Court issued its opinion on Friday, President Joe Biden’s administration announced it hasn’t given up and will instead try to relieve student loans through the Higher Education Act. 
The administration also assured borrowers who can’t make payments when the pause on student loan bills ends in October that they’ll “have a one-year reprieve on the consequences that come along with missed payments,” such as reporting borrowers who haven’t paid to credit agencies. 
But the process of going through the HEA is long. And even with that one-year reprieve, which will stretch from Oct. 1, 2023, through Sept. 30, 2024, interest will accrue.
‘I’m not going to stop fighting:’Biden reveals new path for student loan forgiveness after Supreme Court defeat
Demand for Biden’s original loan forgiveness proposal was significant. 
The application was open for less than four weeks, and in that space, 26 million people either applied or provided enough information to the federal Education Department to show they were eligible. Of those, more than 16 million borrowers were approved for forgiveness of up to $20,000. Up to 43 million people could have had debt forgiven, and for almost half of them – 20 million borrowers – the plan would have wiped out all of their outstanding debt.
That would have bridged a deep chasm in American society. 
A survey conducted by Albert’s organization found nearly two-thirds of the debt accrued by its Native scholars was for student loans versus other kinds of debt.  Young Black women, meanwhile, are the most likely to have student debt, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, and their average loan balance is the highest among all borrowers at $11,000. 
In general, women are more likely than men to hold debt, but higher incomes for men means they can pay down their debt faster than women. The St. Louis Fed said Black men and Black women both start out with more student debt than their white counterparts, and because they earn less, pay it down more slowly. That means gender and racial disparities in student debt just grow over time.
“I’ve held that accomplishment of graduating college so close to my heart, but leaving with tens of thousands of debt. … That’s crazy,” said Maggie Bell, 24, an organizer in Albany, Georgia, and graduate of Albany State University who has $30,000 in student loan debt. “It’s very unfortunate we see the impacts especially on Black borrowers, specifically Black women.”
Amid the spiraling costs of higher education, Black college and university enrollment has actually been dropping. It slid 22% between 2010 and 2020, or more than 650,000 students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, then dropped another 7% since then, data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center show.
Stella Flores, an associate professor at the University of Texas, Austin, said the way the court’s majority opined in the two decisions “feels like a very clouded and misconstrued reality of who we are as a nation.” 
Some justices seemed oblivious to “the generations of exclusion of racial minority families,” she said. “Both issues are deeply connected and arise from a very common evil that is exclusion, segregation, racial fear and the protection of privilege.”
Isaac Herrera, a rising junior at Daniel Pearl Magnet High School in Los Angeles, is still unsure which colleges he will apply to in the future. As a person of color, however, he’s concerned that he won’t have the proper resources needed to deal with the aftermath of a widespread ban on race-conscious admissions. 
“It’ll be very disheartening to see in the future,” said Herrera, 17. “Every institution should encourage and also improve the sense of diversity and also add more measures that would support more groups as this (ban) has happened.”
Kairos Richardson, a 23-year-old who lives in Athens, Georgia, also called the news disheartening. He dropped out of college after racking up $8,000 in student loan debt from his short time studying architecture at Kennesaw State University. 
Richardson said he didn’t qualify for a Pell Grant to pay for school because of what he made working a job at FedEx. To pay for school, he had to work, cutting into his time to study. He found trying to balance payments for school and housing to be overwhelming. Richardson chose to pay for living expenses and hasn’t returned to college since. 
He wants to return to college to study urban design and planning to help rebuild communities for Black and Latino people who have been disenfranchised. But he doesn’t see that being a possibility without help paying off the loan he has now and another grant to pay for school. 
Now what?The Supreme Court killed student loan debt forgiveness.
Reyna Patel, 20, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said she believes affirmative action boosted her odds of getting into the highly selective public university. 
Patel, who is Indian American, is worried the court’s decision will lead to a decrease in racial diversity at UNC, which, despite previously being allowed to practice affirmative action, is a predominantly white campus.
“I don’t think we’re going to be able to come up with innovative and sustainable solutions to these issues in the world if we don’t have students of color and students from minority backgrounds expressing what they need to express,” she said.
But, Patel said, she’s hopeful the many cultural and racial campus groups that rallied in support of affirmative action in the past several years will continue to foster beneficial diversity for students of color on campus. 
Sara Youssef, 17, said she is not going to let the ban on affirmative action alter or impede her college application process. 
“Civil rights activists didn’t stop when things came in their way or didn’t go as planned and I think it’s the same for a lot of us here,” said Youssef, a rising junior at Westview High School in San Diego who hopes to apply to University of California schools. I “worked so hard to get to this point.” 
“We all need to look back at the history of America. We would not need laws like this if the system and the core of it was not as broken and unjust as it is right now,” Youssef continued. “The more we speak up on that and the more we try to change it together, the better America will be for all of us.”
But if one thing’s clear, effecting that change won’t be easy.
“For some reason,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., ranking member on the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Subcommittee, “every time people of color take a step forward, this nation finds a way to make them take three steps back.”
Contributing: Claire Thornton
Contact Alia Wong at (202) 507-2256 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @aliaemily. 

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