Blog | Personal Finance

The Myth of College for Success

Before taking on student loan debt, women must understand that success starts with financial (not a college) education

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Back in 2015, Vice published an important article that every young woman should be aware of. The article, “Student Loan Debt Is Leaving Women Broke and Vulnerable,” started out telling the story of Erika Stallings, a 30-year old woman who attended Georgetown University Law School and graduated with $115,000 in student debt.

“I'm probably as well-off as someone age 30 can be,” says Stallings in the article. “But even I feel the panic of knowing if I lost my job today, because I've been trying to pay off as much debt as possible, I don't have the Suze Orman emergency fund. If I were unemployed for a while, trying to keep up with these $1,000-a-month payments would be terrifying.”

Erika’s story serves as a visceral example of the plight of millions of women who leave universities saddled with mountains of debt in search of a high-paying, white-collar job.

Some sobering statistics from the article:

  • Women make up 62 percent of the students at the most expensive colleges in the nation.

  • Women make up a larger percentage of first-generation college students than men and are more likely to come from a poor family without financial education.

  • 68 percent of women graduate with student debt compared to 62 percent of men.

  • Women are more likely to make less money after graduation than men (“One year out of college, women working full-time made just 82 percent of what men who graduated the same year made.”).

  • 47 percent of women spend more than the recommended 8 percent of their total income on servicing student loan debt compared to just 39 percent of men.

Perhaps most interesting is that women are more likely to major in humanities and “soft” studies that don’t translate directly to the marketplace — “fields like business, engineering and the sciences, which usually lead to better-paying jobs after graduation.” This most likely contributes, at least partially, to the lower pay that many women receive after graduation.

Five years later: Women are even deeper in debt

Now that five years have passed, I was curious to see what the current state of affairs is in regard to women and student loan debt. Do you think these statistics are better half a decade later? Much to my dismay, they are worse. According to an analysis done by the American Association of University Women:

  • Americans today carry $1.54 trillion in student loan debt (this number has more than doubled over the last decade, increasing nearly six times the rate of inflation)

  • Women hold nearly two-thirds of all outstanding loans — around $929 billion

  • Black women finish their undergraduate education with more debt than other women

  • College education costs have risen 103% since 1987, while median household income increased only 14%

  • The class of 2020 is entering a job market with record-high unemployment, which is falling most heavily on women. Many graduates may also experience underemployment and jobs with inadequate benefits

  • Side jobs that students have historically relied on to repay college loans (such as those in retail, the service industry and the gig economy) are disappearing amid the global economic crisis

  • As they have in years past, women encounter a wage gap as soon as they graduate: Women in general are paid 82 cents for every dollar a man makes. Compared to white, non-Hispanic men, Black women make 62 cents on the dollar and Hispanic women make 54 cents on the dollar

As you can see, women are deeper in debt than ever before and navigating an especially difficult workforce. So how will they ever get out of debt and achieve financial freedom?

The myth of college = success

All of this is indicative of a bigger problem: The blind faith in the myth of “go to a good school” and “get a good job” as the path to success.

As Erika’s story powerfully illustrates, school creates the bondage of debt, and that debt makes you a slave to that good job. As she shares later in the article:

“I don't have a familial safety net….If I didn't have this student loan debt, I could start building my own safety net. There would be more money for me to send home. I could switch careers. Last year I had major surgery—adding those bills onto the student loan debt is scary.”

Now, I’m not saying college is always a bad idea — in fact, there is nothing wrong with going to college. There are many benefits that one can gain, such as social skills, study skills, and the beginnings of a powerful social network. Additionally, many women begin to discover themselves and their strengths in college.

But what is dangerous is looking to college as your ticket to security. As the Vice article shows, often it’s anything but.

So, what is?

13 ways women can take control of their financial education

At Rich Woman, we believe with every fiber of our being that it’s financial education, not higher education that leads to success. The following are 13 ways to get the financial education you need to secure your financial future:

  1. Read books. There are hundreds of books about money and investing for those of you who are just getting started and for those who are seasoned investors. Don’t know where to start? Begin with one of my books: Rich Woman: A Book on Investing for Women or It’s Rising Time: What It Really takes to Reach Your Financial Dreams.

  2. Listen to audio books and podcasts. Your drive time is a great time to learn. Load up your smartphone with great audio books and subscribe to podcasts about finance, investing, management, personal development, and more. The Rich Dad Radio Show is a great first step.

  3. Invest in educational seminars, workshops, and conferences. These may be free programs in your area or classes you pay to attend. Various community colleges, businesses, community clubs and organizations, and local investment groups often offer such programs. And some are geared for women.

  4. Read financial newspapers and magazines. The Wall Street Journal, Investor’s Business Daily, and Barron’s are three newspapers heaped with investment information. Reading those daily will dramatically increase your financial knowledge. And to get a beat on what is happening in your area, subscribe to your local business journal newspaper.

  5. Talk with the right real estate, stock, and business brokers. Ask them questions. They can give you a ton of information. Just be aware they also are there to sell you something. So keep your eyes open. I have found the most successful brokers are the ones very willing to share information and education with others.

  6. Talk with other investors. Seek out people who are investing in what you are interested in and talk with them. Again, you’ll probably find that the more successful investors are happy to share what they know with you.
  7. Join a women’s investment club. According to Ken Janke of Better Investing, women now account for the majority of stock market investment clubs. They’re over 60 percent women now, as opposed to 10 percent in the 1960’s. Personally, I recommend clubs that are focused on investment education, not those that pool money to invest. To find these types of clubs, look online through Google and places like

  8. Join a CASHFLOW Club in your area. There are almost 2,000 CASHFLOW Clubs throughout the world. You can find a local one by you by searching “CASHFLOW Club” on Google. Most clubs play the CASHFLOW game on a regular basis, support one another with their investment goals, bring in guest speakers, and learn together how to make the most of their financial futures. Can’t make a club meeting? Play CASHFLOW online for free.

  9. Surf the web. Go online and seek out all sorts of information about the investments of your choice. The Web is an incredible source of quick reference materials, meetings and conferences, contacts, blogs, chat rooms, and discussion forums.

  10. Drive around town. Get a feel for what is happening with real estate and business in your own backyard. You don’t need to find the “right” city or market to invest in. You simply need to find what’s “right” about your city and market.

  11. Watch financial news programs on TV. There are a number of cable programs that are focused on business and investing news. Turn them on when you get ready in the morning. Watch them while you work out. Always find a way to stay informed.

  12. Subscribe to financial newsletters. Newsletters can give you a quick summary of what is happening in the various investment markets, economic trends both regionally and globally, and insights into what to watch for in the future.

  13. Ask questions. Remember, women, we have the advantage here. Since most women have had such little financial investment education, we don’t have to pretend to know all the answers. (Plus, unlike men, we’re not too stubborn to ask for help or directions.) The more questions you ask, the smarter you become. Plus, you may find a new mentor in the process.

Invest in financial education

If you’re a young woman ready to start college, I want to encourage you to supplement your higher education with financial education.

If you’re a parent, relative, or friend of a young woman ready to begin college, please share this article with her. Better yet, sit down, have a coffee, and walk her through it.

Ladies, changing our default future starts with changing our mindset today! Don’t rely on college for success. Remember, education never stops. As long as you want to keep growing your investments and expanding your portfolio, there are always new levels of learning. Take your future into your own hands and see how far you can soar.

Original publish date: August 20, 2015

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