Women, education and their student debt

I recently heard the statement, “our country is not ready for another Black person or Woman for president.”  There are two biases inherent in this statement.  Let’s look at the bias of women being president. How do women perceive themselves?  A woman will only become president when Americans change their biases about what a president looks like and support more women in higher education, private industry and our government.

Women, in their endeavor for equality and ranking, are getting more degrees than men except at the Ph.D. level. In fall 2016, 56 percent of US college students were women. These women need to be supported into leadership positions.

But, these women are having to take on larger student loan debt because for a variety of reasons. And, after graduation, women take longer to pay off loans due in part to an unequal paycheck. Women account for two-thirds of total US student loans or more than $830 billion.

Unfortunately, the elusive equal pay affects women in more ways than we imagined. The pay gap plays a major role in the challenges women face with their student loans. Women have fewer resources to draw on than male counterparts because they’re typically paid less and are more likely to incur more expenses than men, like childcare pushing them to borrow more. After college, women typically get paid less than men--about 20 percent four years after graduation.

Student loan debt is soaring by 76 percent, $1.2 trillion since 2009, a burden to the individual student and our US economic growth.  Student debt often keeps graduates from getting married, having children, buying a home or starting a business.

Equal pay and a living minimum wage are critical in the student loan repayment equation so all women can lift themselves into the middle class or for some, return to the middle-class status of their parents.

Contact your representatives to support state and federal funding of higher education including lowering interest on student loans, fund and expand Pell grants for low-income students, and address non-tuition costs such as housing and childcare. Most industrialized countries have universal preschool for 3-and-4-year-olds such as France. There is a drastic lack of quality/affordable pre-school for American children.

Another aspect of women and their student debt is for-profit colleges (FPC). In July 2012, US Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (US HELP C) released their 2-year study on, “The Failure to Safeguard the Federal Investment and Ensure Student Success.” This investigation demonstrated Federal taxpayers invested $32 billion, in companies operating for-profit colleges (FP). Yet, more than half of the students who enrolled between 2008-9 left without a degree or diploma. Congress has failed to counterbalance investor demands for increased financial returns with requirements that hold companies/FPC accountable.

FPC offers the convenience of a nearby campus, online accessibility and a structured approach to coursework. These innovations have made attending college a viable option for many working adults--Veterans, low-income students, and single mothers accounting for 26 percent of the student body--people who might not otherwise be able to access classes. This population of non-traditional prospective students are often not familiar with maneuvering traditional higher education.

FPC asks students, with modest financial resources, to take a big risk by enrolling in these high-tuition schools and taking on significant student loan debt. When students withdraw, as hundreds of thousands do each year, they are left with high monthly payments but without a commensurate increase in earning power, training or skills--596,556 students who enrolled in 2008-9, or 54 percent, left without a degree or Certificate by mid-2010.

Most FPC’s charge a higher average tuition than comparable programs at, for example, state public universities--public 4-year $14,296 and for-profit $17,345 minus grants and family contribution. The FPC often devote less money to actual instruction costs (faculty and curriculum) than marketing and recruiting.

You may ask, why didn’t the Obama administration do more about this issue? The for-profit college industry opposed all accountability measures relentlessly in lobbying battles for most of the Obama presidency.

In spite of this, Obama’s administration made determined efforts to protect students and taxpayers by holding predatory FPC accountable and schools began to improve their ethics and quality, But the new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, whose enormous wealth includes   holdings in the FPC industry, is turning her back on the hard-working Americans--veterans, single moms, immigrants, and others--seeking to improve their lives through career education programs: nurse’s assistants, auto mechanics, computer technicians, and other jobs.

DeVos has delayed and announced plans to rewrite two common-sense Obama administration rules aimed precisely at channeling federal aid to honest, effective career schools, rather than to the dishonest, low-quality ones.

She has also stalled the process of deciding filed claims of students who say they were defrauded by schools approved by the Department for Federal Aid and should have their federal loans canceled.

We can all demand: Tie FPC access to Federal financial aid to meeting minimum student outcome thresholds, prohibit institutions from funding marketing, advertising and recruiting activities with Federal financial aid and require that FPC receive at least 15 percent of revenues from sources other than Federal funds.


More In Opinion