It is well established that women make up the majority of college graduates, but earn less in the workforce than men. The most recent data show that women earned over half of all college degrees, from associate degrees to doctoral degrees. Even though women are more successful at all levels of postsecondary education attainment, it is not reflected in their paychecks. One year after graduation, average annual earnings for women are $7,622 less than males ($35,296 vs $42,918). The wage gap only grows over time; four years after graduation the wage gap grows to $10,400. A woman with a bachelor’s degree can expect to make $650,000 less in her lifetime than a man.
Compounding these financial inequities, female college graduates likely paid more for their degrees. The most recent financial aid data for full-time, undergraduate students show that even though women are more likely than men to receive financial aid, they receive fewer financial aid dollars. On average, women received $350 less in federal and nonfederal financial aid than men ($15,360 vs $15,710). The same pattern holds true for grant money, loans and work study dollars. Women received an average of $320 less in grants, $150 less in loans and $100 less in work study dollars.
While a $350 difference in financial aid may seem insignificant in the face of high tuition levels, these gender award disparities add up, and can contribute to high student debt levels. Because of the wage gap, women can have difficulty paying off their substantial student loans. In fact, women hold almost two-thirds of national student-debt, repay their loans more slowly and default on their loans more often than men.
As states continue to push for increased educational attainment, women will continue to make up a majority of college students. Given that women start out with lower financial aid awards, go on to make less money, and have a harder time paying off student debt, states must begin addressing these lifelong inequities through a more equitable distribution of financial aid. Below are 2017 legislative session policy examples intended to provide direct financial support to women in higher education.
New Mexico’s SB 197 updates the “Minority Doctoral Assistance Loan for Service Program Act.” The act provides up to $25,000 of loan repayment funds to eligible recipients, in order to increase the number of women and ethnic minorities who obtain a doctoral degree in disciplines where ethnic minorities and women are underrepresented, and who participate as faculty in the state’s colleges and universities. The new “Minority Doctoral Loan Repayment Assistance Act” removes the requirement that eligible recipients received their baccalaureate degree in the state. Additionally, the funds are redirected to payments directly to the recipient’s loan lender.
Minnesota’s SF 2270 proposes a Career Pathways for Underrepresented Women Grant Program. The bill defines an underrepresented woman as one who is 18 years of age or older, and dropped out of a higher education institution or program, or identifies as American Indian, Hispanic, Black or Asian, or whose family income is at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, or has a disability. The funds can be used to support culturally competent career guidance or as financial assistance for child care, housing or job search related costs. Eligible grant recipients include public and private postsecondary institutions, as well as community-based organizations.
Mississippi’s SB 2676, SB 2803, and HB 1167 proposed a Higher Education Grant Program for Single Mothers to make awards available to unmarried mothers with at least one minor child, and whose income is below 150 percent of Federal Poverty Guidelines. The funds would total at least $1,500 and could be applied to child-care expenses as well as tuition, books and other college related materials. Eligible students could enroll full- or part-time, at two- or four-year institutions.
These bills reflect state efforts to support women seeking associate degrees to doctorates. The bills from Minnesota and Mississippi reflect new efforts to address additional costs women incur as they persist through higher education, such as child care. These state policies serve as examples of how states can provide equitable financial support to women and begin addressing lifelong financial inequities.