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Sex Discrimination in Costs of Education

March 15, 1987|JANICE MALL

The world of financial aid for education looks a lot like the workplace as regards patterns of sex discrimination, according to a report published by the Assn. for the Study of Higher Education in Washington.

Using figures from the U.S. Department of Education, the report said that for every dollar a man earns or receives to help pay college costs, a woman receives 68 cents in earnings, 73 cents in grants and 84 cents in loans.

Parents of daughters are more likely than parents of sons to have to pick up most of the tab for higher education. For 65% of college freshmen women--but only 47% of freshmen men--parents are the major source of support, and research cited by the report attributed this directly to the fact that the men received greater outside financial aid.

Not surprisingly, the result is that women tend to receive cheaper educations. Women outnumber men in public four-year and two-year colleges. Men outnumber women in expensive private institutions.

Being close to parity with men in higher education loans is not particularly good news for women because it is much more difficult for women to pay loans back. The average annual salary of women graduates who received and are paying back federal Guaranteed Student Loans is $17,407. Their male counterparts average $23,093, and so need to devote a smaller portion of their income to repaying loans. Probably because of disparity in earnings, women are more likely than men to default on student loans, the report said.

Women are less likely to even apply for loans. Low-income women apply to the Guaranteed Student Loan program at only half the rate of men, perhaps reflecting pessimism about their earnings and ability to repay when they graduate from college.

Women may also lose money in an area in which discrimination operates less tangibly--scholarships based on academic merit. The report said that as part of the current push for academic excellence, there is a trend toward giving more money for merit, but that women are underrepresented in such scholarships. Beginning in high school, they may be victims of bias in nomination, screening and selection. For example, although women high school seniors outnumber men in entering college, in 1985 almost twice as many men as women won National Merit Scholarships.

The pervasive discrimination in society and the workplace affects student support in other ways. The report pointed out that many more men than women have jobs at the levels in which companies may pay for training or job-related college courses. In assistantships in graduate school, men hold more research assistantships than teaching assistantships. (Research is considered more advantageous in that graduate research assistants have the opportunity to work in their fields and publish before they finish their Ph.Ds, and they receive more subsidized conference travel.)

The report also examined the financial needs women have in college, and these turn out to be different from those of men. Women far outnumber men as adult, part-time, independent (self-supporting) and unclassified students--the categories in which the least financial aid is available.

Single women with children have what the report described as the "most critical unmet need under current student-aid policies." Women are much more likely than men to be parents, over 24 and independent at the freshman level in college. Child care is one of their most significant costs, but student-aid policies generally do not recognize this.

Even for a fine student who receives student aid, education for a better job is no easy way to climb out of welfare. People who receive public assistance--three-fourths of whom are women--generally must report all student grants, scholarships and even loans as income, with a resultant reduction in the benefits on which they live and support their families.

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