Gender Disparity in Student Loan Debt:

Is There A Pink Tax on Student Loans?

By Samantha Van Dyke and Caitlin Lane 
The Razorback Reporter

Female college students and graduates are facing higher levels of student-loan debt than their male counterparts, particularly in the state of Arkansas, where some women are in thousands of dollars more debt, according to data from the Department of Education.

The average student loan debt average or males is $11,396 and the average for females is $12,109, according to College Scorecard, a collection of statistics from 2016-2017 gathered  by the Department of Education. 

Former University of Arkansas student Hailey Foster said she’s angry that this gender disparity in student loan debt has prevented her and other women from succeeding.

Former University of Arkansas student Hailey Foster. Photo Credit Samantha Van Dyke

“I think the reason that women have a lot more student loan debt is because there is a significant wage gap,” Foster said, “so it’s harder for us to pay it back in the long run.”

Foster is one of thousands of female students in the state of Arkansas who struggle with more student debt. The median debt for students in the state is $14,615. Female students average $9,933 in debt while male students average $8,686, according to 2015-2016 College Scorecard data. This gap increases significantly when evaluating individual Arkansas institutions, such as Bryan University. Female students at Bryan have the highest debt in the state at $9,047.

Foster said she eventually had to withdrawal from the university after realizing she could no longer afford the cost.

“It was kind of like I was shooting myself in the foot, I didn’t have a sustainable plan,” Foster said. “If I’d done a little more planning beforehand, I think that I could have done better.”

Lisa Corrigan, the Director of the Gender Studies Program at the University of Arkansas, said part of the reason women have more college loan debt has a lot to do with the degrees they pursue.

“Predatory lending is gendered,” Corrigan said. “Women get recruited for for-profit degrees at higher rates than men.”

Corrigan said this is particularly problematic for women of color, who sometimes get scammed into getting degrees from unaccredited programs. This can cause them to have a difficult time getting hired.

Corrigan also attributed the higher debt for women to the “leaky pipeline,” a term in gender studies literature that refers to women who begin college or career paths and drop out half-way through.

“Some of it is financial,” Corrigan said, “like the burden of loans, but it’s also social support. There aren’t strong family leave policies. So, women who have children aren’t supported, and they have a hard time graduating, which leads to a lot of that debt.”

 Joel Doelger, director of Community Relations and Housing Counseling for Credit Counseling of Arkansas, said he thinks student loans have a stark impact on women and their families.

“If a woman has children, the debt burden could impact how those children are housed, fed, clothed, entertained and educated,” Doelger said.

Women are also paying significantly more than men for consumer goods. The term “Pink Tax” gives a name to this gendered disparity.

     “It’s more expensive for us to live day to day,” Foster said, “meaning we have to take out more in the first place.”

When asked what’s causing the $1,207 of excess female student loan debt at the largest university in Arkansas, Denise Burford, Associate Director of Financial Aid for the University of Arkansas, said it’s hard to narrow down the issue to one specific problem.

“I think a lot of things could contribute to higher debt for female students, though things like this are usually very case specific,” Burford said.

“We have a lot of male students involved in work studies, as well as full-time internships while they are part-time students,” said Burford. “This can really help students contribute financially to their loans as they go through school.”

While Burford said she thinks the reason why male students have lower levels is debt is because they take advantage of these programs, women are also able to capitalize on them.

     “I’m in this program at the school that’s called a work study which basically helps me by letting me work in the Mullins library in exchange for a certain amount off of my tuition at school and a monthly paycheck,” said Samantha Barnett, senior at the University of Arkansas. “Because of this work study and a few other things, they have really just helped me to not be in so much student loan debt.”

Amongst the top universities with the greatest disparity in female versus male loan debt is Lyon College. On average, female students at Lyon have $8,250 more debt than their male classmate, making it the college with the second largest gap in Arkansas.

Lyon College financial aid director Tommy Tucker said he isn’t quite sure why the gap is so large.

“In my experience speaking with the students, I would not have expected to see a gap like that,” Tucker said.

Tucker went on and said that he believes most of Lyon’s female students have higher grade point averages, SAT and ACT scores. He also said this led him to believe they would qualify for more scholarships, ultimately lowering their debt- which isn’t supported by the data.

Peyton Groves, a freshman at Lyon College, said she is frustrated that it seems like her education is less important than the men at her school.

“It’s incredibly disappointing that a university that emphasizes equality can have such a glaring gap in debt,” Groves said, “-and that they don’t seem to care.”

Groves does not plan to return to the school next semester. She said she can no longer afford to pay to go there.

“The opportunities provided do not outweigh the cost by any means,” Groves said.