chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.

Legal Education

Legal Education and Student Loans

Support Affordable Student Loan Options and Repayment Assistance Programs

The ABA supports student access to sufficient financial assistance to pay for law school and encourages law schools to offer comprehensive debt counseling education. The average law school graduate can expect to accumulate $145,000 of student loan debt according to the ABA’s Young Lawyers Division (YLD). Increasingly high monthly repayment obligations on student loans presents significant financial problems upon graduation. Flexible repayment options, in addition to accessible and free financial counselling, are critical tools to help assure the future success of graduates who have borrowed significant sums to attend law school.

Title IV of the Higher Education Act (HEA) authorizes federal student loans, but Congress has not formally reauthorized the HEA even though the law technically expired in 2013. The chairs of the House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over the HEA hold opposing views on how to proceed, making it unlikely that the HEA will be reauthorized during the 118th Congress. However, testimony and legislation developed in either chamber could become new starting points for future deliberations over HEA reauthorization, so continuing vigilance is required.

In contrast to congressional inaction, the administration has taken aggressive steps to assist student loan borrowers. Most notably, President Biden has sought to provide up to $20,000 of student loan debt forgiveness for many Pell Grant recipients and up to $10,000 of relief for many non-Pell Grant recipients. However, the constitutionality of this action has been challenged in federal courts, and two cases will be argued before the Supreme Court in February 2023. In light of these legal challenges, the Department of Education has extended the student loan payment pause until June 2023, unless the cases are resolved sooner. Payment forbearance was originally put in place by Congress in March 2020 during the onset of the pandemic. The program suspends federal student loan payments and permits borrowers to repay their loans at a zero percent interest rate.

Despite the expected congressional stalemate, the ABA will continue to monitor and support legislative attempts to assist borrowers. The ABA also will continue to advocate for the Department to provide further extensions of the payment forbearance period.

Support Preservation of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

The ABA’s advocacy helped lead to the creation of the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF) in 2007, which provides loan repayment assistance in exchange for a minimum of ten years of service in certain governmental and nonprofit organizations: House and Senate committee hearings on higher education during this Congress will likely include discussions on the PSLF program. However, the fact that the House and Senate are not controlled by a single party, plus the slim majorities in each chamber, make any prospect for legislation extremely unlikely. The ABA will continue to monitor developments though and provide input to Congress and the Department of Education on how to reform and strengthen this important access to justice program.