Proposed tax bills would have detrimental impact on higher education

With the House and Senate’s recent proposed tax reform plans, it has become evident that the affordability of higher education is not a major government concern.

This month, House Republicans released a major tax reform plan that would limit tax benefits for many colleges – including private universities like GW – and students. Unsurprisingly, the plan has received strong pushback and criticism from both Republicans and higher education groups, leading the Senate to release its own bill Thursday that retains many of the benefits the House bill proposed cutting.

Both proposed tax plans involve cuts that would hurt public and private institutions. Students should be concerned about this legislation because if either bill – or even parts of it – passes in its current version, it has the potential to hurt access to higher education. The House bill proposes a tax on tuition waivers and elimination of tax benefits, while the Senate bill retains a provision from the House bill that would tax some school’s endowments. Both of these bills should not pass as is, and students should stay aware of the progress of these bills as they work their way through Congress and understand how it might affect their tuition payments.

The House bill in particular poses a significant threat to graduate students.

With these bills, both the House and the Senate are sending the message that they do not prioritize higher education. About 65 percent of all jobs in the economy will require some form of postsecondary education by 2020, according to a study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. An affordable and accessible college education is more necessary than ever. But some of the proposed provisions of these bills would shift priorities and make it difficult for students to pursue higher education, ultimately impacting job opportunities for students and growth of the economy.

The House bill in particular poses a significant threat to graduate students. Under the proposed plan, tuition waivers that graduate students receive from teaching assistantships would be taxed as income. This proposed provision would discourage students from applying to graduate school or completing their graduate education. At last week’s Faculty Senate meeting, officials reflected on similar concerns. Tax benefits like the Lifetime Learning Credit and Hope Scholarship Tax Credit, which allow tax deductions for tuition, would be eliminated. This would affect current and future students — particularly those who are older, part-time or graduate students — by requiring them to pay more in tuition. The House bill also proposes eliminating a tax deduction for interest on student loans, which would add hundreds of dollars to the cost of both undergraduate and graduate students trying to pay off their loans.

But the Senate bill, which was released last Thursday, shows that politicians have been hearing complaints from higher education groups. The bill does not propose taxing tuition waivers as income or eliminating the tax deduction for student loans or education tax credits. Under the Senate plan, students at medium-sized private universities like GW would not be heavily impacted by most provisions.

The Senate bill still retains a proposed excise tax on schools with endowments of more than $250,000 per student, which is higher than the House’s proposed threshold. This would affect about 60 to 70 private schools like Harvard University and also small liberal arts schools like Agnes Scott College. It also still proposes eliminating state and local tax deductions, which encourage states to invest in public colleges and state institutions. Although these would not affect GW specifically, the provision is still a potentially huge blow to public and certain private institutions.

But that does not mean proposed cuts from the House bill that were not included in the Senate bill are off the table. What finally gets passed may be a combination of the two bills.

By cutting tax benefits like those proposed in the House bill, not only would it become less affordable to get a degree, but graduation rates and retention could be impacted as well. Only 19 percent of students nationwide finish their bachelor’s in four years, and that’s without the new obstacles. GW’s cost of attendance is currently more than $60,000 a year, and students here have already expressed difficulty balancing school with making enough money to make ends meet. If college is made even less accessible by one of these bills, GW and universities around the nation could see a dip in diversity. This would hurt the progress GW has made with recent efforts to increase the University’s accessibility and affordability and attract a more diverse student body, from going test-optional in 2015 to setting off on trips to recruit diverse applicants last month.

It will be frustrating and harmful if the federal government negatively impacts GW’s efforts.

Both bills have a long and tough road ahead, and it is unlikely either will be passed in its current form. But regardless, these bills show that students are not the government’s priority. Students should still be paying attention and remain aware of what is happening with the bills. If either bill is passed, in its current form or a similar form, it has real potential to significantly hurt students. To prevent this bill from passing, concerned students should call up their state representatives. In the long term, students can also vote in future congressional elections so that they can get people into office whom they support and trust to speak out against proposals like these.

Right now, the University does not need to take any action or prematurely provide students with information that can overwhelm them. But both administrators and students should be staying up-to-date on the progress of the bills. GW has worked hard to make itself seem more accessible in recent years, and it will be frustrating and harmful if the federal government negatively impacts these efforts.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Irene Ly and contributing opinions editor Shwetha Srinivasan, based on discussions with managing director Melissa Holzberg, managing editor Tyler Loveless, sports editor Matt Cullen, copy editor Melissa Schapiro and design editor Anna Skillings.

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