GOP tax plan threatens higher ed.

GOP tax plan threatens higher ed.

Tim Eggert

At nearly 50 universities, including the unmentionable one 100 miles north of NMU, graduate students participated yesterday in walkouts against a standard nestled within the budget bill that passed the House earlier this month which, essentially, reclassifies tuition waivers as taxable income.

Grad students at most universities, including Northern, are granted tuition waivers in exchange for teaching classes or conducting research.

Currently, these funds aren’t taxed as income. The House’s new bill, however, requires the waivers to be considered income, and to be taxed as such.

According to the Council of Graduate Schools, nearly 1.74 million students enrolled in graduate programs in 2012. To Congressional Republicans, higher education is an unfished pond of taxable individuals and incomes; their logic: tax graduate students at lower, simpler rates based on their relative compensation.

On paper, this seems justified for equitable taxation, especially when some tuition breaks are granted at nearly $40,000, but, through the plan, students’ taxable income could be more than tripled, forcing them to spend massive portions of their stipends on hulking tax bills.

GOP members argue that their plan will stimulate the economy and create more jobs to graduates, yet, students would be paying taxes on money they never acquire.

For undergraduates who receive untaxed financial aid, the proposed amendment to the GOP tax plan may not seem like a platform for worry, nor protest.

But, for students currently enrolled in graduate programs, and for those intending to attend grad school, like myself, the unprecedented tax reform legislation is problematic. Not only will it make costly college more expensive, but further out of reach of low-and middle-income families, such as mine, from the plausibility of obtaining an advanced degree.

Like many undergraduate students, the only way I’ve sustained my college career for four years has been through a dependency on academic scholarships and
financial aid.

Although I plan to apply to graduate school in a year, these possible new terms to my education are threatening to my, and others’ financial stability. Assumedly, they’ll be wholly dependent on waivers for advanced opportunities, I know I will be.

There’s no doubt that post-secondary education is a privilege, and that tuition nationwide has been on the rise, so why make higher education accessible only by the privileged?

If colleges enroll more students from the top 1 percent of earners than from the bottom 60 percent, as data from the Equality of Opportunity Project suggests, then the gap shouldn’t be widened. Yet, the tax bill will make graduate school nearly unattainable for students who aren’t inherently endowed.

Education unjustly operates as a stage for economic and social stratification. The bipartisanship that surrounds post-secondary education already exists in the form of unbalanced federal and state granted funding to low-income students.

With the proposed bill, all students will find themselves even lower on the short end of the financial-aid stick. Instead of feeling empowered to advance in education, they may suffer from a fear that self-funding is the lesser of taxed evils.

Most of all, in a time when advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines are at the forefront of U.S. educational needs to remain a competitive global force, graduate training in these fields should be more affordable. Incentivizing STEM programs ought to be the focus of educational reform, not forming an inaccessibility to them.

Perhaps what amplifies the issue of the tax plan is the attitude that higher education in the United States is a source of major profit, a functional battleground for political dissonance.

Historically, education has successfully isolated itself from major tax reform, and it can continue to be. If they must intersect, though, let us first dismantle the education enterprise, and then advance to higher democracy.