Not a Bug, A Feature. Tax Bill Meant to Kill Higher Education in America

November 29, 2017


Economics 101 tells us that if you tax something, you tend to discourage it.
Hence, taxes on things like tobacco, liquor, etc.

Climate change, and the necessary transition to a zero carbon economy, represent the greatest challenge to civilization at the moment.
A Carbon tax, for instance,  would be an elegant and laser-focused signal to markets that would, if applied in the US, instantly shoot this country back to the front of the line in development and deployment of the renewable energies that are creating the industrial revolution of this century.

The Republican response?
Don’t tax carbon, tax knowledge, tax curiosity, tax ambition, tax the passion to learn how the world works and create the products and services that will allow us to survive and prosper.  And choke off the World’s greatest educational system, that keeps producing those pesky scientists who tell us things billionaire donors do not want to hear.

Current tax reform bill includes language to penalize, if not extinguish, higher education in America.
It’s not a bug – it’s a feature. They really mean it.

Andrew Dessler in the San Antonio Express-News:

A tax on graduate school is an attack on our economy

One of the most foolish parts of the tax bill currently being debated in Congress is a large, new tax on graduate school. The new bill implements this through taxing what is known as “tuition waivers.” At most schools, graduate students do not pay tuition (it is waived).

This is done because grad students, who typically get paid around $25,000 per year, can’t afford tuition that in some cases can exceed $50,000 per year.

In the new tax bill, the value of the waived tuition is counted as if it were money the students are actually getting (their earned income, of course, is already taxed). Thus, a grad student who makes $25,000 would have to pay taxes as if they made $75,000.

This would be a terrible policy because it would hurt one of America’s most prized and valuable possessions: excellence in advanced university research. Graduate students form the backbone of research done at universities in the U.S. When professors proudly talk about the amazing work their lab is performing, the odds are that the critical contributions were made by an army of smart, hardworking grad students.

This research is one of the primary sources of innovation in our economy. Research carried out at universities, as well as research that graduate students do after they graduate, has transformed every aspect of the world around us. Medical research has significantly lengthened and improved our lives. Agricultural research keeps us fed.

Military research keeps us safe by ensuring that our soldiers have better equipment than their opponents. The internet is built on technologies that emerged from research anchored by our universities.

Our research universities are the envy of the world. Because U.S. research is so good, students come to us from all over the world. And the U.S. benefits from this because the smartest of these people often stay here after they graduate, adding to our professional research workforce.

When I worked at NASA, the building I worked in looked like the United Nations — people from all over the world working to advance the goals of NASA and the U.S. government.

Our graduate educational system is one of the primary reasons that the U.S. is such an innovative country. Which is why it’s so puzzling that Republicans want to raise taxes on graduate students. The net impact of taxing graduate school will be to raise its cost, leading to a net reduction in people getting advanced degrees.



Graduate students around the country walked out of their classes, office hours, and research labs to protest the House Republican tax plan Wednesday.

“This plan is going to be disastrous for higher ed,” said Jack Nicoludis, a Harvard graduate student in chemistry, who helped organize a protest on the campus. He said the bill would more than double his taxes.

In exchange for teaching courses or teaming up with professors on research projects, universities don’t charge many Ph.D. students tuition, and give them modest stipends. The House bill would end the tax break students get on the value of their tuition waivers.

“Graduate students already struggle to get by and this will just be another factor that dissuades people from getting Ph.D.s,” Nicoludis said.

He said he saves money by living in an attic. “In the winter it’s very cold, in the summer it’s very hot. I just deal with that because I want to pursue a graduate degree here. I want to get a Ph.D. I want to contribute to the science that’s done in our country, and to do that I need to save some money by living in an unfavorable housing situation with five roommates,” Nicoludis said.

At the University of Maryland, students said they felt like the tax plan treats them like trash, and they wore garbage bags to a rally.

Nat Baldino, a third-year Ph.D. student at the university’s Department of Women’s Studies, has already had to take out student loans to pay for basics such as utilities and rent.

“There’s a misconception that grad school and academia in general is this sort of lofty enterprise,” Baldino said. “We already don’t get paid a livable wage — and as someone who is a first-generation college student, I already came into graduate school with tens of thousands of dollars of debt from undergrad.”

“If this bill were to pass … I don’t know how I would live,” Baldino said.

Jonathan Brower, a seventh-year Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland’s history department, said the university gives him $20,000 a year in exchange for working as a history instructor, a job that he says is extremely labor intensive.

On top of teaching, Brower is responsible for running conferences and writing his dissertation, and he receives a $20,000 tuition waiver.

The stipend doesn’t exactly fund a lifestyle of luxury. Brower is paid biweekly, and he’s often down to pennies before his direct deposit hits, despite living with his parents.

The plan would tax the value of students’ free tuition — meaning students like Brower would have to pay taxes as if he made $40,000 a year.

And that’s a massive difference to a group of people that make very little money.



10 Responses to “Not a Bug, A Feature. Tax Bill Meant to Kill Higher Education in America”

  1. indy222 Says:

    This is utterly disgusting, as a college professor – this is the most disastrous anti-education stunt I’ve yet seen.

    All the better to force educated people to emigrate and leave Trump with the basest of his “base” to solidify his power.

    It’s obscene to see the stock market rallying on the improved prospect this tax bill will pass.

    • webej Says:

      Since billionaires need waivers on estate taxes, it is only logical that students pay taxes over the imputed value of their tuition waivers in order for uncle Sam to square his bills — the money has to come from somewhere.

      A good question is how much this tax will actually net. My guess is that the income it generates will not even be 1% of the imputed value of the damage it causes.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Although this will impact graduate students in all fields of study, it will hit science hardest—-it is estimated that 60+% of those affected are enrolled in STEM programs. The Republican War on Science moves into its final phase (and has the added appeal—to Repugnants—of hitting the poor, immigrants, and people of color more heavily than rich white kids).

      It is more than obscene to see the stock market “rallying” on ANYTHING Trump and the Repugnants propose—-just more evidence that the greedy rich care for nothing but accumulating wealth, no matter how much it hurts the country. (And I still can’t fathom why the “base” is so blind to the Dumpster Fire they are feeding).

    • dumboldguy Says:

      PS Forgot to mention the provision that eliminates the tax deduction for teachers who spend their own money for classroom teaching materials, which will impact public education far more than the private schools the greedy rich send their kids to—-they may not all pay their teachers the highest salaries, but I’ll bet they DO make sure the materials and equipment are there for their kids.

      • garyhorvitz Says:

        Who was it, maybe John Stewart of the Daily Show, who said “Reality tends to have a liberal bias.”? This is the point. Blunt the notoriously liberal bias of universities.

  2. […] via Not a Bug, A Feature. Tax Bill Meant to Kill Higher Education in America | Climate Denial Crock of t… […]

  3. ubrew12 Says:

    Jobs are coming to an America Made Great Agin! We have openings for Cannon fodder, Sweatshop graveyard shift workers, alt-right bloggers, and Fast food ‘corporate assistants’! Come one, come all!

  4. I’m not worrying too much. University research programs are too dependent on the submarket wages paid to student serfs. Their lawyers are smarter than Congresscritters’ lawyers, and will surely find effective loopholes. For example, if tuition is taxed, instead of granting waivers along with grad stipends, just lower tuition for supported students.

  5. rabiddoomsayer Says:

    China’s rise in science over the last few decades has been astounding, there was a significant risk they would soon be the world’s leaders. And now Trump wants to ensure America’s second rate science status.

    In time China’s economic supremacy was probable. Trump does not want to settle for probable, he wants to make certain.

    Very soon the US sphere of influence will be Israel, Australia, Canada and the UK. China is achieving more foreign influence with the odd million dollars or so than the US is is with trillion dollar wars. (although with Israel I am not sure who is senior partner)

    The anti science bent is beyond scary, beyond the bounds of sanity.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      ” (although with Israel I am not sure who is senior partner)”

      Probably Israel. They have the world’s best anti-terrorism intel. Daresay they wisely ask for monies in return. And, of course, a lot of that goes straight back to the military-industrial complex.

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