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Wednesday, December 6, 2017
What the GOP Tax Plan Means for Graduate Students
Though a nuanced discussion of tax code and potential implication for billion-dollar, private university endowments would have no space to breathe in a short blog post, I'd like to briefly tackle the issue of what this tax code overhaul could mean for higher education here in the United States.

Currently, somewhere around 150,000 graduate students in the U.S. receive so-called tuition waivers. Their tuition is paid by the universities where they study, so long as they as they are teaching or researching. The new tax plan will treat that tuition payment as income, meaning that students will have to pay tax on the money.

This is problematic in practice for a number of reasons. Graduate students typically don't earn much money, particularly if they work almost full time on research and teaching. They would now be required to pay significantly higher taxes on cash that they do not get to use for living expenses. Some estimates have noted that graduate students will see a 400% increase in their tax liability because the bill will cause their taxable income to triple.

The GOP is selling the bill in effect as a stimulus package, and many economists claim that the overall tax cuts embedded in the bill will cause a short-term bump. But for an industrialized country that lags behind the rest of the world in education, the act of discouraging people from pursuing advanced degrees makes little socioeconomic sense. Why, some wonder, would we discourage scientists from researching cancer cures?

The tax bill consequences fan the flames of an ongoing discussion of the problems with privilege in higher education. It comes in the wake of a partisan split over the inherent value of college-an increasing number of Republicans feel that third level education is not the ticket to upward mobility that it once was, but rather a vehicle for the inculcation of liberal views.

Though the House and the Senate still have to reconcile their two different versions of the bill, graduate students don't fare well in either draft. One thing is certain-if graduate school becomes entirely out of reach for all but the wealthiest students, the health of the entire country suffers.


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