The House of Representatives passed their tax bill on Nov. 16. The bill affects higher education in a number of ways, including the tuition costs of currently enrolled students.
Opponents of the bill argue that it will remove most tax benefits that make college and university tuition more affordable.
The Senate tax plan, passed on Dec. 2, does not affect higher education in the same ways. The House and Senate must now reconcile the differences in their separate tax bills before proceeding further.
Colleges across the country offer faculty and staff tuition benefits for their children who are enrolled in college programs leading to an academic degree. For many participating colleges and universities, these benefits can cover the tuition costs of the children of college employees in full. Full-time faculty and staff and their children can apply for the tuition exchange program.
The House tax plan would tax the value of college tuition benefits, which could dramatically increase the taxes of campus employees who benefit from the program.
Over 60 colleges and universities in Pennsylvania participate in the program. Local participating institutions include the University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University, Robert Morris University and La Roche College.
Saint Vincent College currently offers the benefit to full-time faculty and staff.
Kevin Augustine, a senior marketing major, and Jill Cline, a junior business economics and marketing major, are students who currently utilize the tuition remission program.
“The tuition exchange program was a huge part of my decision to come to Saint Vincent,” Augustine said. “The only schools I considered were the ones that offered tuition exchange.”
Augustine had to apply and go through an interview process to be deemed eligible to receive the benefit.
Cline explained that tuition exchange was a primary factor in her college
“When looking at schools, I only looked at schools that offered full tuition exchange to me,” Cline said. “I looked at other schools that I received tuition exchange from, but none really stuck out to me. I didn’t necessarily choose Saint Vincent because I got tuition because other places offered it as well. It was just the best out of all of the ones I looked at.”
The tax bill also includes plans to increase taxes on graduate students who use tuition waivers. These waivers allow graduate students to attend a college or university for free, in exchange for working or conducting academic research on campus.
The American Council on Education estimates that roughly 145,000 currently enrolled graduate students receive this type of tuition reduction each year.
The tuition that colleges and universities waive for these graduate students would then be deemed a taxable income, with students expected to pay taxes on the amount of tuition that is waived.
“This is a terrible bill for higher education,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers told the Daily News. “The graduate student doesn’t get tuition waivers-all of a sudden it becomes income, so that graduate education is completely unaffordable.”
According to The New York Times, House Ways and Means Chairman, Kevin Brady, has suggested that he is open to changing the parts of the bill that would affect graduate students during negotiations with members of the Senate.
Graduate students across the country participated in campus walk-outs in November to protest the provisions to the bill that would most affect them.
The tax plan also includes items that would tax the income of college endowments by targeting the largest endowments at each institution.
House Republicans have defended the parts of the bill that affect higher education to achieve the bill’s economic goals.
Following the bill’s announcement, a spokeswoman for the House Ways and Means said that the bill is focused on increasing take-home pay for all Americans, and will provide relief for taxpayers.
Photo: New York Daily News, The Review twitter