The American Dream of bootstrapping oneself into the middle class looks increasingly more like a pipe dream. And the most recent assault is in the Republican Party's proposed tax plan, released last week. If passed, the plan would raise taxes on our nation's graduate students, making it even harder for education to act as a great equalizer in terms of access to opportunity.
Students are famously not-rich. Two out of every three millennials have more than $10,000 in student loans. The new tax plan would repeal tax credits for student loan interest, essentially acting as a tax hike on every young person for the next several decades – the amount of time it will take most people to pay off their loans. The GOP's attempts to raise revenues by penalizing society's future leaders is an outrage that must not be allowed to pass.
Repealing that credit will save the government about $2.4 billion (for context: a month ago, Congress backed a $700 billion increase in military spending). The tax plan also does away with incentives for charitable donations to universities, which many people, particularly students from disadvantaged and underserved backgrounds, rely on for scholarships and tuition breaks. The vast majority of students and scientists in the world, including me, have had their research funded by private donation. Without that money, what are we supposed to do?
The proposal makes life harder for older and part-time students, removing tax relief for students who take more than five years to graduate. And through additional cuts to state and local tax deductions, the proposal would also encourage public funding spending cuts to universities, like the kind that saw Governor Scott Walker's administration cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the University of Wisconsin. I went to SUNY Buffalo. My salary came directly from university funds, which comes from the state legislature. I owe my career and the life I have now to publicly available education funds.
The plan also makes tuition waivers for graduate students taxable. Grad school is horribly expensive as it is, and students make very little. Grad students shoulder huge teaching loads in addition to their research to help make ends meet. Research done by those students, by the way, is huge economic driver, by some estimates doubling every dollar invested in it.
I was offered a stipend when I was a masters student. It paid $18,000 per year. Most masters students don’t get a stipend at all. I asked to do a PhD, because the stipend was bigger, a little less than $23,000 a year. I was thrilled to take a freelance side job because it paid me a guaranteed $600 per year. At one point, I lived in an apartment that cost $285 per month in rent, was covered in black mold, and couldn’t be heated past 58⁰F. In Buffalo. If I were a student under this law, my taxable "income" would've gone up by 50 percent, even at an affordable public university like SUNY Buffalo. It's unlikely that I could have been able to live on what remained.
Is that the goal of all this? Keeping education out of reach?
I can sit here and keep listing all the ways that the new tax plan robs students who are already being crushed with the cost of education. (You can read all of them here.) I honestly don’t know why anyone would want this to pass. If these changes actually go through, the cost of education goes up, making it more likely that the only people who can afford higher education will be the independently wealthy, those people for whom taxes and tuition are more petty annoyances than actual burdens.
The cost of education is skyrocketing, well past the rate at which relief is coming. If this tax plan represents the world that the GOP wants, it will be a world where only the wealthy can have an education and anyone else can take a hike.
I don’t know for sure why anyone would want this, but somewhere, not too far below the surface, I can guess.