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Date of Award

Spring 5-11-2023

Author Requested Restriction

Open Access (no restriction)

Work Type

Dissertation in Practice

Degree Name

Doctor of Educational Leadership (EdD)


Educational Leadership

First Advisor

Christopher B Knaus

Second Advisor

Julia C. Duncheon

Third Advisor

Stephanie Sampedro



This qualitative study explores the relational impact that student loans have on the lives of women across Washington state, with specific attention to their parents, partners, children, and workplaces. This research utilizes Feminist Relational Work as a theoretical framework, which combines feminist theory and Zelizer’s notion of relational work to attend to the gendered dynamic that Zelizer’s relational work does not specifically name. Participants in this study named sexism as a constant in their lives, whether within family dynamics growing up, throughout the college going process, or in professional post-college spaces that a degree granted them access to. The study was guided by two overarching research questions: 1) How do women experience student loans in their relationships to self, work, and family? 2) How, if at all, do these experiences affect the way women think about the value of education and educational access?

Study findings include: a) a lack of choice in their college going journey, b) the college and student loan process being an emotional experience, c) having a distrust but reliance on systems connected to the college and student loan process, d) relationships being central to decision making regarding college and student loans, e) dynamic contemplation around the value of a college degree, f) class as a determinant and constant consideration in college and student loan experiences, g) confusion, distrust, and disbelief around notions of student loan forgiveness, and lastly, h) hopes for higher education that involve decreased debt for future students.

The discussion and implications of this research are intertwined, and encourage reflection on capitalism, the loss of public universities, and how we value ourselves, others, education, and women. This research argues that families shape our college and student loan experiences, that college is a form of capitalistic exploitation, and that ‘access’ to college spaces and student loan debt for women both benefits women, and burdens women with the undoing of structural sexism if not appropriately nuanced. Implications include, but are not limited to, erasing outstanding federal student loan debt, banning all interest accumulation on educational loans, inviting students and student loan borrowers into discussion around system, policy, and process revision, honoring women as experts of their own experiences, and encouraging women to use their expertise to examine other ever-evolving inequities by leveraging their resources, knowledge, and capacity.

Abstract.docx (7 kB)