Big­ger debt, lower wages ham­per fe­male col­lege grad­u­ates

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - VIEWS & VOICES - By Ardis Eschen­berg, Ph.D., and Dionne Malia In­fiel

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.

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