Graduate students at Indiana University and other campuses across the country protested the U.S. House version of “tax reform” Wednesday. They say a particular part of the House proposal would hit them hard, requiring them to pay much higher taxes.
It would. They aren’t the only ones. This version would have ramifications beyond the individual graduate students whose tax bills would more than double, by some estimates.
This issue illustrates the scales on which the Republican-led House balances tax reform. The weight of tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy is so great, additional revenue must be found to put the bill closer to financial balance. House Republicans see graduate students — often jokingly stereotyped as “poor graduate students” — as a target.
The stereotype isn’t necessarily wrong. A variety of sources, including glassdoor.com, place the average pay for graduate students at between $20,000 and $30,000 a year for the things they do — teaching, teaming up with professors on research, assisting in their departments — along with taking courses.
Our nation’s higher education system has encouraged bright young men and women to continue on to doctoral programs by waiving their tuition in exchange for the teaching and research work that has the potential to pay back humanity in innumerable ways. The paychecks come in the form of modest stipends.
It’s those incentives that the House Republicans have targeted through their version of tax reform. They would begin taxing the tuition breaks as income.
At a time when we need a better educated workforce and a strong commitment to research, especially in science and technology, these provisions in the House bill would make going to graduate school less attractive and less affordable. Graduate students and would become less economically diverse, in that those from wealthy family backgrounds would be more likely to continue on a path to graduate studies.
IU’s graduate students delivered a petition opposing the House plan’s tuition waiver tax to President Michael McRobbie’s office. He wasn’t the target; he’s spoken out against the House bill.
But it was a good place to get attention.
“We appreciate the people we work for, the issues we research and the students we teach,” said protest participant Tracey Hutchings-Goetz, a Ph.D. candidate in English literature. “But a walkout sends an important and clear message that we will not stand by while higher education is placed at risk. We are not opposing you, our administrators, but standing with you to oppose this tax plan.”
Fortunately, the U.S. Senate’s tax plan does not include this provision. We, like the students, call on Indiana’s entire congressional delegation to make sure this ill-targeted way to raise tax revenue in the name of reform is stopped in its tracks.
Protesting students chanted: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, this heinous bill has got to go.” They are right.