EDITORIAL: Tax bill may harm access to education

Graduate student aid will be taxed as income

President Donald J. Trump and the Republican Party have officially reeled in their first win — the hasty and flippant passing of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. While the bill largely espouses tax cuts to the immensely wealthy, it seems to many to be a blatant assault on the accessibility of higher education. Graduate students are often offered remission or deductions on their tuition, or in some cases are granted stipends to help them afford the cost of living while attending their graduate program. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, this monetary help will be liable to be taxed as income, defeating its purpose. As part of a national demonstration in response to the bill passing in the House of Representatives earlier in November, Rutgers graduate students, undergraduate students and faculty members participated in a walkout protest with the aim of displaying the vitalness of graduate students to the wellbeing and advancement of not only higher education but American society. 

Unfortunately, not many graduate students were able to attend the walkout because they were in classes and teaching, which they literally cannot afford to abstain from — the Department of Education determined that 55 percent of students working toward their Ph.D. have an income of less than $20,000. What’s more, taxing the aid that graduate students receive will without a doubt disproportionately affect people who are not inherently wealthy, possibly forcing many to leave school and subsequently eliminating any incentive for people from low-income backgrounds to attempt to get a graduate-level education — which will only serve to increase the wealth gap. 

The current administration’s goals are contradictory. They seem to wish to benefit citizens of the United States and ensure a positive future for our nation but fail to recognize that the future lies in the hands of students. Graduate-level research is incredibly valuable, and this nation needs more educated thinkers expanding fields of study — not less. Discoveries and findings through research that is conducted by talented and smart individuals at the graduate level can lead to improvements in the country’s economy as a whole, which is why it is so puzzling that a government would de-incentivize the attainment of graduate degrees — the very thing that leads to such economic gains. 

Rutgers has a relatively commendable record when it comes to efforts to keep tuition low for its students, with a less than 2 percent increase each year. The University looks for ways to balance out spending so as to avoid laying more financial burdens onto students. It is possible that in order to prevent an increase in the cost of attending graduate school at Rutgers as a result of this bill, less graduate students will be accepted so that the administration can allocate more money to financially aiding them. Less students means less diversity and less opportunity. 

University President Robert L. Barchi has said that he will not comment on the specifics of the bill and will not respond to hypotheticals with regard to it, but that he has students’ backs. It is clear that this is not enough from the president of the University. Barchi needs to do more than just say he has the backs of graduate students — he needs to show them. Additionally, more students need to care about the assault on higher education. As a group, students have significantly more power than they may think. Students have the power to change things, but in order to change things we need to care and we need to be outraged. After the passing of this bill, it is clear that the majority of current Republican members of the Senate and House of Representatives are not worried about the Trump administration’s assault on higher education — students need to take this issue into their own hands. 


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 149th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff. 

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