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October 30 2017

Do Women Struggle More with College Loan Debt than Men?

by Charlotte Hays

Do women struggle disproportionately with college loan debt?

The liberal American Association of University Women has a new report entitled "Deeper in Debt:Women and Student Loans" out that indicates that women suffer more from college debt than men.

The AAUW has some fascinating figures, which I am going to share with you before pointing out just what the AAUP misses.  This is from the executive summary:   

Right now about 44 million borrowers in the United States hold about $1.3 trillion in outstanding student loans. The scale of outstanding student loans and an increasing share of borrow­ers who fail to repay have made many Americans aware that student debt is a challenge for society and for individual borrowers.

Yet despite the fact that women represented 56 percent of those enrolled in American colleges and universities in fall 2016, many people do not think of student debt as a women’s issue. This report reveals that women also take on larger student loans than do men. And because of the gender pay gap, they have less disposable income with which to repay their loans after graduation, requiring more time to pay back their student debt than do men. As a result, women hold nearly two-thirds of the outstanding student debt in the United States — more than $800 billion.

This report offers a broad overview of how student debt became a women’s issue. It aims to change the conversation around student debt so that it includes gender-based analysis and solutions. The analysis examines the experiences of women as a diverse population and presents statistics by race and ethnicity as well as other demographics. The report relies heavily on publicly available federal government survey data as well as published studies undertaken by academics and organizations researching the issue of student debt.

The study fails to consider the main reason women sometimes have a hard time paying off their loans: it's the choices they make, especially with regard to their college majors. Women are more attracted to sociology or humanities than, say, engineering, a high-income field. So women get out of college with equal debt but more likely heading for a lower paying career. Christina Hoff Sommers has joked that women could solve the gender wage gap almost overnight if they all majored in engineering!

The AAUP'sproposed solutions, not surprisingly, include things such as expanding Pell grants or on campus childcare. But that overlooks the root problem: college costs too much. Expanding the availability of loans rather than addressing this problem exacerbates it: as long as colleges know that there will be grants and loans available, they will raise tuition.

We should try to make college cost less for everybody--men and women alike. We should explore online courses, saving money by going to community colleges for two years before going to a four-year institution, or even knocking a year off by acquiring enough AP classes in high school. American Enterprise Institute President Arthur C. Brooks wrote a famous article in the New York Times headlined "My Valuable, Cheap College Degree" that describes a course of study that even included by mail classes.

I buy the AAUP's thesis that college loan debt may be a bigger burden for women, given our penchant to pick Victorian poetry over engineering. But the solution is not more loan backing or grants--been there, done that. The solution is finding better, more creative ways to get a degree, while at the same time giving colleges incentive to lower costs rather than raise them. 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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