Student debt in the U.S. totals more than $1.3 trillion, disproportionately affecting women, who hold nearly two-thirds of that debt. Why is this the case? How does the gender pay gap factor into student loans?
Kimberly Churches, C.E.O. of the American Association of University Women answers these questions and many more.
Interview recorded June 14, 2017. Hosted by Robert Traynham.
Read a partial transcript of this interview below:
Traynham: As the student-debt crisis continues to mount, a 2017 report by the American Association of University Women reveals that the average female college graduate owes $1,500 more in loans than her male counterparts. Hello, everyone. Welcome to “Comcast Newsmakers.” I´m Robert Traynham. Kim Churches, CEO of AAUW, the organization that just released the report, joins me. Kim, welcome to the program.
Churches: Thanks very much.
Traynham: I hate to say this, but I´m not surprised when I read your report. Here´s why. We continue to hear over and over and over again the pay-inequity gap between male and female. Is it 70 cents on the dollar?
Churches: 80 cents on the dollar, but when you get into women of color, it´s even worse. Really, that pay-equity gap for African-American women in this country is at 63 cents on the dollar, and for Latinas, 54 cents on the dollar. So it really compounds the issue.
Traynham: So, what is the solution?
Churches: So, really, I think one of the biggest things we need to make sure we do is that we can take action. One of that is to strengthen our Pell Grants as we think about this, and this report in particular wasn´t surprising to many of us, but when you think about if somebody takes on school debt and then they don´t even graduate from college, so you´ve got the debt of your student loans and you don´t even have the benefit of the degree to help you to raise more income, and then when you think about compound interest of what that does, and already with an existing pay-equity gap, it just keeps women further behind their male counterparts.
Traynham: Sure. Kim, this is a silly question, but I have to ask it. I think some people would say, “Well, wait a minute. You and I go to the same college. I´m a male. You´re a female. It´s the same tuition. How can you have $1,500 more in student-loan debt than me?”
Churches: Yeah. Well, we´re taking out more loans is the problem, and more women are… Now today 57% of college enrollees and attendants are women, which is fantastic. We´ve made extraordinary strides over the last few decades. But as we think about their first salary coming out of college and their ability to start to repay that student-loan debt, it´s just much more dramatic now. So there´s $1.3 trillion of student-loan debt in this country, which is an astounding number, but if 2/3 of that is held by women — and women also, in many cases, are single family earners and taking care of children, and you compound that with child care — it´s a real problem. So it takes them longer and longer to be able to pay off that debt.
Traynham: Statistically, do women go on to higher-education degrees — in other words, go and do masters or postgraduate work?
Churches: So, we are now — women are the majority at the undergraduate and graduate levels, which again is fantastic compared to many decades ago. Great strides. But if they´re not able to attain the right level of salary once they complete that education or, worse, if they don´t complete the education and just have the debt, all the worse.