Some higher ed administrators may be surprised to learn that women hold two-thirds of the nation’s $1.3 trillion in student debt. By the end of 2016, this percentage equaled $833 billion, according to a new report by the American Association of University Women, a grassroots organization focused on promoting gender equity in education.
Heavier student debt affects females throughout their lives, and combined with gender pay gaps often results in less savings and a later retirement age.
On average, it will take women two years longer to pay off their loan debt than men, and females are more likely to experience financial difficulties during this time. This is more common among black and Hispanic females, as they are also subject to inequality in racial gaps, according to AAUW data.
Colleges and universities can mitigate this struggle by creating new financial aid options in the form of grants, says Kevin Miller, the study’s author and senior researcher. Some institutions have already eliminated aid that must be repaid.
Princeton launched a debt-free degree in 2001, and Davidson College in North Carolina did the same in 2007. Others, including Duke, are easing price tags for low-income students, but require partial payment depending on family earnings.
Addressing female students’ other unique needs can also help ease financial stress. For many women, this includes a safe place for their children while they are learning.
“Administrators sometimes need to be sold on the childcare, as it’s very expensive on a per-student basis,” says Miller. “If institutions are unable to provide childcare directly, they can help connect their female students to community subsidies or services that could better their financial health.”