The Crushing Weight of the Mortar Board
Published March 19, 2022 / Updated March 21, 2022

The Crushing Weight of the Mortar Board

The student-debt crisis and the gender gap make it difficult for women to get by, let alone ahead.

by Susan E. Stutz

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An illustration depicting college graduates drowning in a mortarboard cap full of water.

Chris Nickels for NPR

There was a time when most women went to college to earn a Mrs. degree, and I imagine that there are some that still do. Finishing schools were created to teach their students—primarily young ladies from affluent families—proper social etiquette and training in cultural values and norms. Secretarial courses were in abundance, and attendees hoped for jobs that would put them in contact with eligible bachelors whom they would marry, move to suburbs with, and live like June Cleaver, highball at the ready. But that is certainly not the case for all women. Some of us were, are, looking for intellectual independence and financial. Some of us want to change the world. Some of us want to rule the world. And, that takes money—lots of it.

Enter student loans.

According to U.S. News, the average cost of college tuition for the 2021-2022 school year ranges from $11,631 to $43,775, depending upon whether you attend a public or private college/university. Times that by the four years it generally takes to get a bachelor’s degree, you are looking at a cool $50,000 - $175,000 of tuition costs. If you go on to a master’s or doctorate program, the tuition increases tremendously. If you are a person of color, you are likely to owe thousands more than I do for the same degree. And, once you graduate, your repayment interest rates will also be higher than the average white graduate.

I do not know about you, but I certainly do not have thousands of dollars tucked away in my mattress. And, even if I did, it is unlikely to be used for education. So, we take out student loans that we plan to repay when we graduate and get the high-paying job that has focused on our education. It seems like a good plan, right? Yeah, not so much. For many women, the hope for that future can come crashing down as quickly as a mortarboard in the air on graduation day.

A 2021 study by the American Association of University Women found $1.7 trillion in student loan debt in the United States. Of that, women owe far more than men, and women of color, owe even more still. Although the gap borrowed by women versus men is not too large, it’s more significant when coupled with the gender wage gap and disparities in the availability of high-paying jobs.

“Taken together, the student-debt crisis and the gender gap make it difficult for women to get by–let alone ahead.” —AAUW

As most of us who have student loans know, payments went into forbearance during the pandemic, but that ends in April, which gives us less than two months until we must incorporate the loan payment back into our budgets. For those whose businesses closed or whose jobs no longer exist for one reason or another, the impact on the bottom line will be crushing.

But, it is not all bad news. There is some relief on the horizon. Earlier this month, White House Chief of Staff Ronald Klain said that President Biden is considering continuing the forbearance and even possibly issuing an Executive Order which will provide loan forgiveness to some borrowers. And, according to another Forbes article just days later, the Department of Education has identified 100,000 student loan borrowers who are now eligible for loan forgiveness due to changes made in October to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

Not all of us will qualify for loan forgiveness based upon public service. Even so, we are not without options. We can lobby President Biden to flex his executive muscle and provide relief to countless families across the country.

You can send a letter to President Biden by sending president to 50409 and let your thumbs do the talking. Alternatively, you can sign on to one of the following petitions organized by members of the Resistbot community:

Once you hit send, you can invite your friends and family to do the same by following the prompts.

Want to learn more? Join Resistbot Live on Sunday, March 20 at 1:00 pm Eastern as we take a more in-depth look at student loan debt, or grab the pod the next day.

Thank you to Elena.

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