Women Face Higher Student Loan Debt, Workplace Challenges

By Kirsten Baird, Coleman Bonner, Abby Zimmardi 
The Razorback Reporter

The average female student loan debt in Arkansas is $10,051, which is about $1,250 more than the average male student debt in 2016-17, according to a College Scorecard study, a U.S. Department of Education database.

Juliet Sittler, a UofA junior majoring in accounting, has around $19,000 in student loans from her first three years of college, she said. She intends on taking out more loans for graduate school and hopes to pay them off in less than five years. 

Sittler, 20, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, said she’s entering a field dominated by men. “I would say that I’m not the only female, but there are way more guys than girls in all my classes,” Sittler said. Enrollment in the Walton College of Business in 2017 was 64% male and 35% female, according to the UofA Student Degree, Enrollment and Demographics.

On top of the gender disparity in student loans, some female students are entering professions with a significant gender imbalance, and they may not be paid as much as their male counterparts.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the top male-dominated fields are civil engineering, which is 14% female; chemical engineering, 18% female; and electrical engineering, 9% female. In each of these fields, women earn only about 89% of what men do, according to a study by the Department of Labor. 

Summer Smith, a junior biomedical engineering student, said she is aware of her place as a minority within her field, yet she feels it could be used as an advantage.
“I think it’s kind of cool because you get a lot of different opportunities that women that are in a female-dominated field don’t have,” Smith, 20, from St. Louis said. “Since people are looking for women engineers, I think it really makes me stand out.” According to the UA Office of the Registrar, the engineering student body is 76% male and 24% female.

UA senior Katharine Jovicich, 23, from Dallas, who is majoring in chemical engineering, said she has acquired over $100,000 in student loan debt. Jovicich will be paying off her loans with no help from her family, besides living at home rent free, she said. 

“My goal is three years, but I think I could pay the minimum payment and it goes maybe 10-20 years,” Jovicich said. “But I just want to be out of it and so I will live very simply and still at home and get all of that paid off.”

The gender imbalance in engineering is obvious even to the men. “In school, engineering is definitely male-dominated. I’d say at least 80% male, and in certain disciplines it was even more so,” said Jeremey Porterfield, 32, from Bryant, Arkansas. “You feel it in the culture of the company.”

Portfield graduated from the UofA with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and was awarded about $4,000 in scholarships during his time on the Fayetteville campus. He currently works as a project manager for Garver Engineers, but is still paying off his $40,000 in student loans. 

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Kirsten Baird was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. She moved to Fayetteville, AR three years ago to begin her studies at the University of Arkansas. This semester, she is involved in the Digital Media Lab. She will be covering stories and events related to the College of Education and Health Professions for the Razorback Reporter.

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