House tax bill hits graduate students hard

COURTESY OF JACOB TOOKTeachers and Researchers United will be hosting a speak out on the tax bill this Thursday

Those planning to apply to Ph.D. programs for the 2018-2019 academic year should be especially disappointed in the tax-reform bill that the House of Representatives recently passed. They receive a small stipend, at UCSD it ranges anywhere from $18,000 to $30,000. Graduate students often see the high tuition costs of graduate education waived by their institutions to allow them to come and study, especially if they can not otherwise afford to study.

Graham L. Hammill, vice provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate School at UB, expressed concern that the measure would force graduate students to spend a significant amount of their stipends on paying taxes.

"[The tax plan] affects my entire career plan ... if I get a faculty position [after finishing at Loyola], there won't be any graduate students to teach if that part of the tax bill goes through", Orem said.

Jeffrey Boruszak, a graduate student in English studying contemporary American poetry, said in a Facebook post that his taxable income from UT previous year was $20,547. Average pay for an 11-month graduate or research assistant is $22,944.

More than 2,000 graduate students across the USA have signed a petition started at Harvard asking Congress to keep the tuition waiver.

The GPSC formally came out against the House bill's treatment of graduate students in a resolution passed November 21, and have organized a day of action for December 6, in which members will be stationed in key campus locations such as the MSC and Evans Library to provide information and encourage students to call their senators and representatives.

Moreover, this plan would decrease the accessibility to education for many potential students who can not afford the additional tax hike, while further burdening the lives of current students. A commitment to diversity is at the cornerstone of modern academia, and adding additional financial burdens to graduate students will only further undermine those ideals.

While the waiver is something the university has to balance on its books, "This is not showing up as income in the student's bank account". Okere said the impact on graduate students also matters to undergraduate students.

10News spoke with several UCSD students who say they would have to drop out of school if this provision ends up in the final plan. In her letter, Rooney stated her disapproval for the tax bill and support for higher education.

Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute last week, Republican Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said lawmakers were listening to supporters of the waiver provision and that it would be addressed when the House and Senate try to reconcile their bills.

The prospect of that sends shudders through UH's grad school community.

"My hope is that a lot of universities would pivot to qualified scholarships", said Emily Roberts, a Seattle-based finance expert who advises graduate students and runs a blog, Personal Finance for PhDs.

Hammill said numerous protesters were likely from departments that haven't caught up with national averages for stipend levels.

"So if I'm a non-resident, I am now going to be taxed as if I'm making my stipend plus $29,000 a year", he said. If he had to pay taxes on waived tuition, he would owe the IRS at least $3,076 by his calculation, an increase of $1,689 or 123 percent.

"I worked in a lab with a bunch of graduate students", Koeneke said.

Seligman says he welcomes scrutiny of the way the university handles its endowment, but he says they already are required to follow stringent audit guidelines. But a Toomey staffer who said there was no one available to talk with members of the group came down to the security desk to accept the Grinch's deliveries.

"What we tend to see here is people being passionate about the impact of their gift and helping to change the life of a science, engineering and mathematics student", he said. "And that includes living paycheck to paycheck". However, the plan has devastating implications for individual students at Harvard as well as at universities throughout the country.

All of us should be alarmed by the threatened disruption of thousands of students' professional trajectories. Students forced to abandon graduate studies will lead to a higher ed "brain drain", and undergraduate classes taught by many of these graduate assistants could similarly suffer, said Iwanicki.

"We're trying to get graduate students to organize and inform themselves about these policies that are being had in the federal legislature that can have a really negative impact on higher education", said Andrew Smolski, a graduate student studying sociology and one of the organizers of the protest.



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