Connecticut Grad Students Say Proposed Tuition Waiver Tax Would Limit Access To Knowledge

Nov 27, 2017

House Republicans are coming under fire for their proposal to tax the cost of tuition for graduate students. Critics fear that if the bill becomes law, only the wealthy would be able to afford to get advanced degrees.

Thousands of grad students get their tuition paid by their university in exchange for teaching classes and researching. The House GOP plan would count that tuition benefit as income.

"For us, we're just really disappointed that Congress decided to pass this bill,” said Steven Manicastri, a PhD student at the University of Connecticut. "To me it's really disturbing that Trump and his supporters would try to eliminate this exemption, calling it a tax cut, when it's really just another attack on our universities and more generally on working people who are basically trying to get an education."

Grad students at UConn usually make less than $27,000 a year if they work two full semesters. The tuition waiver for out-of-state students is about $32,000 a year. That means their income taxes would more than double if the House plan became law.

"It would basically change the entire model by pricing people out,” Manicastri said.

Students from private universities would be hit even harder, since tuition is usually much higher. Wendy Xiao is in her eighth year at Yale, earning an MD and a PhD.

"It's just ridiculous in my opinion,” she said. “And what really should be happening is that people who are struggling should be supported. People who are trying to make a better life for themselves, make a better society, should be supported."

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has pointed out that sometimes when taxes go up, fewer people tend to use those services. That means if the GOP bill becomes law, it's likely that fewer students would be earning advanced degrees.