The GOP Tax Scam: Big Breaks for Billionaires, Giant Burden on College Students

The Senate is set to vote on the latest GOP tax scam, which would burden college students across the country by making it harder to afford higher education. Recently, the House passed their own version of the bill, which would rip away student loan interest deductions and begin treating graduate student and staff tuition waivers as taxable income, causing taxes to skyrocket for hundreds of thousands of students – all in order to give people like Donald Trump and his billionaire friends a tax break. The tuition waiver provisions would affect about 172,000 college students, according to the most recent figures available – including 145,000 graduate students, whose tax bills could increase by as much as 400 percent.

This tax plan would rob many students of the opportunity to pursue a higher degree and continue their education after undergraduate school. Our higher education system is one of our country’s greatest strengths, and the government should be making it easier for students to earn a degree, not harder.

If enacted, this bill would immediately put students across the country in jeopardy. Read on to see some of their stories:

Thomas Campbell is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Chemistry at St. Louis University who works 50-80 hours a week to pay for his degree.

St. Louis Dispatch op-ed:  “In addition to increasing our taxable income, it would shift most graduate students into a higher tax bracket, increasing our tax rate. All told, most graduate students would pay $10,000 to $15,000 more in taxes than they do now — accounting for roughly a 50 percent decrease in our take-home pay.” 

Samantha Fuchs is pursuing a Ph.D. in engineering at the University of Texas at Austin and receives a tuition waiver from the university, which would be included as taxable income.

Dallas News: “And for some graduate students — often already struggling to make ends meet — the potential tax hit could be the difference between pursuing an advanced degree or not. ‘If I hadn’t already started, I would probably reconsider,’ said Fuchs, a 24-year-old who grew up in a Chicago suburb.”

Ryan Hill is a father and a fourth-year Ph.D. student at MIT who receives a $30,000 stipend and would have to pay taxes as if his income was $80,000 a year under the GOP tax plan.

NPR : “‘I wish we didn't have to stress about money as much as we already do,’ Hill says. ‘It's been already very hard to just emotionally get through this time of life because we have to be so frugal.’ The couple already gave up dental insurance to save money. And Hill says his wife sews clothes for their baby so they don't have to buy clothes.”

Not only will graduate students see a dramatic tax increase, but so will campus employees like Boston College custodian Fred Vautor, who was able to put his five children through BC thanks to tuition waivers.  

Boston Globe: “‘As much as I struggled, it was incredible to be able to do that for them,’ said Vautour, 64, who has worked the graveyard shift as a custodian at Boston College for 17 years. ‘I took this job for benefits, but never imagined this would be one of them.’”

Christopher R. Marsicano is a Ph.D. candidate at Vanderbilt University who will face a massive tax increase if the GOP tax plan becomes a reality.

LA Times op-ed: “Graduate students do important work. For the most part, we don’t go to graduate school to increase our earning potential. We go because we care deeply about answering questions and solving problems of all sorts. Students don’t research cancer for the money; they research cancer to find a cure. They don’t study psychology simply because the subject interests them; they do it to understand and help prevent criminal behavior.”

Gary S. May is the chancellor at UC Davis and wants students to be able to pursue graduate education because graduate students’ work is valuable to strengthening our economy.

Sacramento Bee op-ed: “Graduate education should be encouraged because lifetime earnings increase with advanced degrees, which boosts tax revenue. Raising taxes on graduate students in the name of reform is like reducing weight on an airplane by throwing out the passengers.”

Zofia Knorek is a graduate student at the University of Oregon studying marine invasive species who would have to end her graduate education if the GOP tax plan passes the Senate.

Oregon Live letter to the editor: “At the University of Oregon, this waiver keeps us from having to spend about $17,000 a year (or, for international students, about $28,000). The tax bill would treat the value of our tuition waivers as taxable income, increasing our tax burden by about $1,500 to $3,500. That increase is even more staggering at private institutions, where graduate students would see their tax burden increase upwards of $10,000, or 400%.”

Katie Gach is a mother and a second-year Ph.D. student studying technology, media and society at the University of Colorado. She would be taxed on income worth $53,000, instead of the $18,000 that she receives as a stipend from the university.

Boulder Daily Camera: “On top of Boulder housing prices, food and other everyday expenses, she said 60 percent of her income goes toward putting her baby in day care for three days a week. ‘We still come out in the black, but if my husband were also a grad student, it would not be possible,’ Gach said. ‘I'm so lucky I'm part of a two-income household. For my colleagues, it's the difference between being able to do this work or not.’”