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GOP tax plan to cut savings for grad students by $65 billion over next decade, report shows

Students concerned over House-backed tax plan which taxes tuition as income

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The Graduate Student Association will vote on a resolution to voice opposition to the GOP tax plan, which has been criticized nationally for its rollback on tax benefits for graduate students and universities.

Chris Rupert, a graduate student in biology, is drafting a resolution to present at the Dec. 6 GSA Senate meeting. The report will ask UB administrators to commission an official report looking at how the tax plan, Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, would impact UB specifically. Organizations across the country have criticized the Republican-backed tax plan for its elimination of student-related tax deductions and its provision that makes tuition waivers for graduate students taxable income. The bill also eliminates tax credits for students and parents of students.

Since the House of Representatives passed the bill on Nov. 16, the National Association of Graduate and Professional Students, the American Council on Education and the American Association of Universities have announced their opposition of provisions that hurt student loan borrowers and graduate students.

The non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated the House version of the tax plan would reduce tax benefits and savings for all college students by $65 billion over the next decade. Meanwhile, the bill includes a $1.5 trillion tax cut for corporations.

Graham Hammill, vice provost for graduate education and dean of the graduate school, said the university is very concerned about the effect of the House tax bill on UB’s graduate students.

UB will advocate for the removal of the provision that would tax graduate student tuition, Hammill said.

President Satish Tripathi called local congressman Chris Collins (Rep-NY) to express his objection to the portion of the tax bill that taxes graduate student tuition, according to UB spokesperson John Della Contrada. Collins has endorsed the tax reform bill publicly.

More than 1,490 graduate students receive tuition waivers in exchange for teaching or research, according to Della Contrada. The average scholarship award these students receive is roughly $10,870, according to Hammill. The tuition waiver repeal could leave graduate students paying up to $500 more in taxes, depending on the amount they receive in tuition.

GSA President Tanja Aho calculated what this tax repeal would cost her, and found it would increase her taxes by about $1,000 if passed.

“I make $14,000 as a TA,” Aho said. “But if my tuition waiver were to be counted as income –– as President Tripathi always likes to point out –– then I would suddenly be paying taxes as an international student on about $30,000. So instead of being reimbursed $500 from taxes which is what I usually get, instead I would be paying the government $500.”

Aho said this tax plan will significantly hurt graduate and professional students, particularly non-traditional students who may already struggle with financial burdens like children or other dependents.

“For a graduate student living off $14,000 a year, and especially an international graduate student who cannot have any other employment, that $500 is rent for a month, or its food for two months,” Aho said. “That’s significant.”

Rupert said he hopes his resolution will start a conversation between the university and its graduate students. He thinks the tax plan will have a negative impact on UB’s ability to attract graduate and professional students.

The tax plan will also make it more difficult for less wealthy students to pursue higher education, Rupert said.

“It’s just not fair. I thought the entire point was that anyone who is good enough would be able to go to school,” Rupert said. “And from what I’ve been reading, essentially what this does is make it so you have to have money to go to grad school. I don’t know how many students would end up quitting or being forced out of programs, but that’s going to kill the school.”

Hammill expressed similar concerns.

He said UB believes taxing tuition scholarships would discourage graduate students from attending graduate school.

“Taxing graduate students will prove to be a disincentive to completing graduate degrees,” Hamill said. “The overall effect will be a reduction in highly educated people in this country, which will affect our overall ability to be competitive as a society.”

Sarah Crowley is the senior news editor and can be reached at sarah.crowley@ubspectrum.com


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