Want to squelch research? Tax grad students’ waivers

Dec 12, 2017

The bill, passed earlier this month by the House of Representatives, would remove a deduction graduate students can use to deduct the value of their tuition in exchange for working or doing research.

Universities could increase graduate student pay to make up for the higher taxes, but that may be hard in an era when many higher education institutions are facing budget cuts.

Wallace said her taxes would likely increase marginally but her income is already limited as a graduate student.

About 300 to 400 graduate students and others turned out to Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus Wednesday to protest a proposed tax on their waived tuition. The bill changes the tax code so that graduate student workers would be taxed for tuition that is waived.

It’s not the norm for PhD students to pay any tuition.

Just feet away from the Offices of the President and Provost, about 50 graduate students sat in the lobby of College Hall on November 29 to protest the GOP tax bill.

But GET-UP member and English Ph.D. student Nick Millman, who helped organize the event, said the administrators’ statement was not enough and that GET-UP is calling on Gutmann to release a statement with concrete steps on how to protect students from their loss in income due to the tax plan. The House tax bill makes it impossible for my colleagues and me to live up to our full potential.

At the rally, a graduate student speaker directed everyone in attendance to enter the numbers for California’s Senators in their phones on the spot, telling the protesters to call and demand that Democrats withhold consent from Senate business until the tax bill is dead.

“We get paid about $25,000 in stipends annually”, student Michael Burrows said. So far, organizers say they’ve gotten support from undergraduates, faculty and university administration. We will continue to keep you apprised of any new developments as Congress considers changes that will impact IU and its students.

The actions are being supported (pdf) by the March for Science, which warned lawmakers in a letter, “This bill will have a particularly significant impact on individuals from marginalized communities, already underrepresented in the scientific field”. Yet I’m still theoretically being “charged” tuition on some university administrator’s spreadsheet – and the GOP legislation would treat the waiver of that tuition as a taxable benefit. She said the extra cost would force many of her peers to drop out, and younger students to shun higher education, plugging the workforce pipeline. Also, these students are concerned that they wouldn’t be able to write off the interest on student loans and their stipends for working on campus would be taxed at a much higher rate.

After the rally, graduate students called their congressional representatives, making almost 200 calls during the phone bank.

But other concerns about the overall threat of this proposed tax were shared, as well, in an open forum where people could speak to the crowd with a megaphone.

Regardless of what this University tells us, the real outcome of this election is that we now have a stronger community and the conscience that nothing will be better unless we make it so. These are also goals and outcomes of our higher education system: a model of mixed private-public funding, market based, and the outright envy of the world.

“It’s a two year program”. And now they want to make that degree even more out of reach.

Baker said University President Robert L. Barchi and Dean of the Graduate School of Education Wanda Blanchett expressed their support in favor of graduate students.

We will also continue to work closely with organizations like the ACE, AAU and APLU, as well as with our state’s congressional delegation, to ensure any bill that ultimately emerges from Washington is less draconian for higher education.

But it will also affect many in-state students, who tend to have relatively low incomes and could be pushed into a higher tax bracket if waivers were counted, he said.

Graduate students are anxious because this is something that will definitely impact their personal finances.

Republicans Are Right to Reform Higher Ed's Tax Breaks


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