Gap and Gown: The Reality for College Graduates

November 21, 2012

I grew up in the Washington, D.C., area. Several of our school systems notoriously underperform amid poverty and socio-economic disparities. But I didn’t want to become another statistic in a system that is so closely associated with juvenile delinquency and crime.

I defied the odds by attending college to create a better life for myself. My four-year journey has been arduous. Through late nights spent writing papers and studying for exams, I have learned that success can be achieved through higher education.

I have been able to finance my education through grants and scholarships. Unfortunately, many of my peers are graduating from college burdened by thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Sadly, receiving an education often means being saddled with debt.

The U.S. Department of Education estimates that in 2010–11, the average college tuition was $13,600 at public colleges and $36,300 at private institutions. These statistics are particularly disheartening for women who seek to enter the workforce upon college graduation. As a senior, I am crippled by the fear of adulthood and the process of searching for a job in a harsh economy. In addition to these fears, I am facing the tragic truth that my gender will put me at a disadvantage in the job market. When I look to the future, I often wonder if my daughters will face these same struggles.

Tremendous strides have been made to promote gender equality in the workplace. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. This legislation is a positive step toward helping end sexist employer practices. This act empowers women to seek legal remedies against sex discrimination by allowing the statute of limitations to reset every time a woman receives a discriminatory paycheck.

Despite this step forward, women still face a pay gap just one year after college graduation. And while paying back student loans is a challenge for all of my college friends — female and male — it is especially difficult for my women friends thanks to this gap. AAUW’s recent report, Graduating to a Pay Gap, illustrates the connection between mounting student loan debt and pay discrimination.

According to the study, one year after college graduation, the average woman in my situation will get paid just 82 percent of what her male classmate is paid. As women, we have fought for an end to gender-based discrimination. Yet, in spite of the efforts of generations of women, we are still struggling in 2012 to be paid fair salaries.

As members of the millennial generation, we are fooled into believing that all of the great battles for equality for women ended in the 1970s. This is a naive presumption. As women, we can fight for equal pay by working within the legal system to report pay inequality. We must be our own advocates in demanding salaries equal to those of our male counterparts. The choice to dismantle these sexist institutions is ours. It is up to us to ensure the next generation of young women no longer has to fight. Let’s make sure that the battle for pay equality ends with us.

This post was written by former National Student Advisory Council member Ola Ojewumi.

By:   |   November 21, 2012

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