GOP Tax Plan Hits Graduate Students Hard

GOP Tax Plan Hits Graduate Students Hard

By NORA SULLIVAN | November 30, 2017

On November 16, the House passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, advancing the contested tax overhaul. The proposed reform would result in tax cuts worth $1.5 trillion across a decade, but graduate students across the country say the Republican tax plan could raise their taxes drastically.

The Republican effort would repeal tax code Section 117(d)(5), ending tax credits for tuition. Any tuition waivers provided by universities and employers would become taxable income under this plan. Both a doctoral student working in a Biology lab and an undergraduate RA compensated with tuition waivers would watch their taxes skyrocket. Data compiled by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources shows that tuition waivers allow 145,000 graduate and 27,000 undergraduate students to go to school.

MIT doctoral student Tamar Oostrom told NPR, "this bill would increase our tax by 300 or 400 percent. I think it's absolutely crazy." Graduate students at Ohio State University protested the House bill last week and organized a sit-in at the district office of Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH).

Tuition waivers enable many labs to run. Graduate students at Emory University must enroll in credit hours and pay tuition, even if these are only research credits. In addition to taxing tuition waivers, the House bill would also end the student loan interest deduction. This deduction allows individuals repaying student loans and making up to $80,000 to decrease their debt.

Enduring effects of this bill rack up costs. Tax cuts will not pay for themselves, regardless of what Steve Mnuchin purports. The House GOP tax bill would add $1.3 trillion to the deficit, a recent The Tax Policy Center report found.

The proposed plan would shift the landscape of higher education. Only students able to bear the financial burden of increased taxes could enter a postgraduate program. Repealing tax credits for tuition waivers makes higher education even less accessible than it is now.

College and graduate study has long been held as a springboard for individual mobility and scientific innovation. The GOP bill would force bright and deserving students from academia and debilitate research in the country. As it stands, a shroud of uncertainty hangs over graduate students and their institutions. Pushed out of the Senate Finance Committee, it will now be up to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Senate to consider and edit the bill. Floor consideration began this week, following the Thanksgiving recess.

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