Bigger debt, lower wages hamper female college graduates
Women attending colleges and universities have come a long way. The good news is that now 57 percent of students earning bachelor’s degrees from American colleges and universities are women. Currently in the U.S., 44 million borrowers hold about $1.3 trillion in outstanding student loans.
Unfortunately, according to research by AAUW (American Association of University Women), women take on larger student loans than do men, resulting in two-thirds of the outstanding student debt or more than $833 billion held by women. Coupled with the gender pay gap (women earn 26 percent less than men), women take longer to pay back their student loans than their male counterparts. A lower salary means less income to help with debt repayment.
A new report, “Deeper in Debt: Women and Student Loans,” recently published by AAUW (aauw.org/research/deeper-in-debt/), gives an analysis of federal government data. It shows 44 percent of female undergraduates take on student debt, while 39 percent of male undergraduates take on debt. At every degree level, women take on more debt than men.
AAUW advocates ways to help women and other minorities resolve this issue by safeguarding and expanding Pell Grants for low-income students, as well as providing nontraditional students the resources they need — on-campus child care, for example — to successfully complete college degrees.
Windward Community College is one local institution working to provide just such a resource. Grant funds were secured to create a child care center — two rooms: one infant and one toddler — currently under construction to be completed by March. It will hold eight toddlers, six infants and be conducted in Hawaiian language. A luau fundraiser recently raised money for furniture and other expenses. Now, funding needs to be secured for the positions needed to run the center. Legislative support for these positions is critical to answering the needs of all our student parents and addressing the needs of female students, who are disproportionately saddled by student debt.
Solutions to the student debt problem should also include supporting income-driven repayment approaches that reflect borrowers’ realities. And our support for students should address the additional costs they face beyond tuition. Congress can also end the harmful causes of the gender pay gap by passing legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Pay Equity for All Act to aid in the economic security of women.
Receiving scholarships from AAUW and other foundations can offset some of
the loan burden, but the bulk of funding comes from grants and student loans.
On June 15, the AAUW Honolulu Branch participated in Lobby Day on Capitol Hill as part of the AAUW National Convention. Thirteen members of the branch asked our Hawaii representatives in Congress to support protecting and strengthening federal financial aid programs such as Pell Grants, Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and Income-Driven Repayment. These programs are critical to the success of women in higher education and can help to curb the student debt burden they experience.
Ardis Eschenberg, Ph.D., is vice chancellor for academic affairs at Windward Community College; Dionne Malia Infiel is a student parent and recipient of student aid at University of Hawaii-Manoa.
More information about AAUW research is at honolulu-hi.aauw.net.