By: Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy
Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee, launched a new initiative today aimed at making lawmakers more aware of the student debt crisis affecting college graduates. The website "College Affordability: Share Your Story" encourages students and families to directly communicate the need for affordable higher education in the U.S. to their representatives in Washington.
According to the senator's office, more than 40 million Americans owe a total of $1.3 trillion in outstanding student loan debt—more than car payments or credit card debt.
"By sharing their stories, students and families can help make clear why skyrocketing college costs and overwhelming student debt should be a top priority in Congress," Senator Murray tells Glamour.com. "I want to make sure their voices are heard loud and clear as I continue my work to make college more affordable and ensure more students can graduate without the crushing burden of student debt."
While women and men typically borrow similar amounts of money for their education and both genders have median monthly student loan payments of just over $200 months one year after graduation, women are hit especially hard by the student loan crisis.
Women are more likely to go to college than men (in the 2007-08 school year, 57 percent of all bachelor's degrees were awarded to women). But after graduation, women earn less than men, making repaying student loans a greater challenge.
Researchers estimate that 8 percent of a person's salary going toward student loans is the upper threshold of manageable college debt. But a 2013 report issued by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) [pdf] found that, among full-time workers repaying their college loans in 2009, substantially more women were paying over 8 percent than men. And 20 percent of recent women graduates spend more than 15 percent of their take-home pay on their educational debt.
If there is no reform, the situation is likely to worsen the Center for American Progress (CAP) notes that 63 percent of all job openings require at least some education and a recent White House analysis found that the average tuition for a four-year college has increased more than 250 percent over the past three decades; the income for a typical family has only increased 16 percent in this same time period.