After the Senate voted December 19 on the revised tax bill proposal from the GOP, it seems that, for the moment, graduate students are out of hot water.
Many students — more than 140,000 — attending graduate programs rely on tuition waivers to be able to afford to attend school. Unlike the picture that many like to paint, though, these tuition waiver programs aren’t simply handing students money. Graduate students have a number of responsibilities outside of being students that can include teaching classes, grading papers, and working on valuable research; these tuition waivers act as reimbursement for the hard work these students do.
The original House bill included a provision that would tax the waived tuition of graduate students as though it were income. What this boils down to is that a graduate student attending the University of Texas who has received a tuition waiver for $19,000/year would be taxed as though the $19,000 each year were income that they earned rather than waived educational expenses. While this was troublesome news for students across the country, students attending schools with exorbitantly high tuitions — like the ivy leagues — would have been devastated with this proposed hike to their annual taxes. Including this in the first draft of the GOP tax bill was regarded by many on both sides of the aisle as disastrous to our educational system.
Thankfully, it seems as though graduate students will not be targeted in this new tax bill, a change influenced largely by the number of protests organized by students hoping to create noise over the proposal.
The tax bill may no longer be targeting graduate students, but this tax bill was only the first in a line of initiatives affecting students that House Republicans have in their sight. On Tuesday, December 12, Republicans began an extensive rewrite of law that governs the higher education systems across the nation. Through this reform they’re seeking to overturn regulations implemented under the Obama administration to protect students from scam universities and predatory for-profit colleges and universities. The reform, however, could have even more drastic consequences than is immediately apparent and could potentially undo the very structure upon which education in the United States has be built. For example, it could do away with the “credit hour” system, a long-held standard for measuring completed degrees, which would make it easier for said predatory colleges to grossly inflate the cost of earning a degree.
Republicans have long shown a willingness to forego educational concern in favor of other initiatives that they prefer through cutting spending on higher education and raising taxes for colleges and universities, so while graduate students might be safe for now, it’s safe to say they’ve still got targets on their backs when the next round of cuts comes to fruition.