ASCH: The GOP tax bill is an assault on higher education

The current plan for tax reform is not sensible for students across the country

op-PaulRyan-courtesywikimedia

The GOP tax bill will be detrimental to students' ability to afford their education. 

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

After months of debate, Republicans in the House of Representatives have passed a tax reform bill and Republicans in the Senate have released their version. Unfortunately, there are many provisions in the House bill which will make life more difficult for students and universities across the country. These changes make a college education more expensive for students who already struggle to pay sky-high tuitions. It would also affect universities, who need to use their endowments to fund world class research. All these changes are taking place while Congress leaves in place a litany of exemptions for large corporations and the ultra-rich. This attack on universities is unsurprising, considering that GOP voters’ opinions about universities are strikingly poor, but it is unfortunate that the House is making such terrible public policy decisions. While there is certainly a case to make for tax reform and eliminating certain deductions, it is unconscionable to do so on the backs of already-struggling students. 

Perhaps the most egregious portion of this bill is the provision preventing students from deducting student loan interest from their taxes. Though there are income limits on this deduction, it helps many individuals who make less than $80,000 by allowing them to deduct up to $2,500 off their federal taxes. This deduction is an excellent idea, mostly because the United States is currently facing a student loan crisis where many struggle to pay back their high interest student loans. Faced with the problem of student loan debt, it is completely ridiculous that the House has decided to not find alternate ways for students to service their debt, instead opting to eliminate one of the few avenues people have for relief. 

Another ridiculous provision the House placed in their tax bill adversely affects graduate students. In this provision, tuition waivers, which many graduate students get in exchange for teaching or doing research, will be taxed as income. This is a terrible idea, as often times this money is crucial to graduate students who would not be able to afford their education otherwise. If tuition waivers end up being taxed as income, graduate students will be forced to pay far more on their income taxes, which is incredibly bad policy. It is important for a society to have a highly educated workforce, so it is essential that the government provide incentives for students to attend graduate school. Because it is so important to create this highly trained workforce, it makes no sense for the federal government to increase the cost of attaining post-graduate degrees, especially when so many students claiming tuition waivers are in STEM fields. 

The final assault by the GOP tax bill on higher education is not on students directly, but on universities. One provision in the tax bill would tax the endowments of private universities. This tax would only apply to schools with endowments of more than $250,000. Though it is true that many of these endowments are unbelievable large, it makes no sense to tax them. These endowments often times pay for scholarships, research and personnel. Taxing these funds is terrible policy because instead of using this money fot for beneficial purposes, it will would flow to the federal government. Though it is important to note that the fact these endowments have been growing while tuitions have been rising is a problem that needs to be addressed, the House plan to tax universities leaves less money for universities to tackle these issues. 

While there are certainly problems with the tax code, giving a tax cut to the very rich at the expense of America’s students is not the right answer. It is already incredibly difficult to afford a college education, and these changes would make it practically impossible for many students. It is essential that the government incentivises students to attend college. Tax reform is important, but these deductions need to be preserved. If the GOP is serious about attempting sensible tax reform and not just a giant tax cut, they will go back to the drawing-board and release a better thought-out plan. If they choose to continue full steam ahead with these flawed plans, then these so called “reforms” will actually end up hurting many who are already struggling in our society. 

Jacob Asch is an Opinion columnist for the Cavalier Daily. He may be reached at j.asch@cavalierdaily.com

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