Why I, and other aspiring graduate students, should be afraid of the GOP tax plan

Lynn Korsun, Print Presentation Director

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Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve dreamed of becoming a medical doctor. This aspiration changed over the years until I finally settled on my true passion: psychology. Now, to become a psychologist or do anything remotely successful in the field, it is essential to have a Ph.D. A bachelor’s degree in psychology isn’t going to cut it. So, I’ve known since I entered my undergraduate studies that I would be going to graduate school to pursue my Ph.D. — so I thought, until I read about the GOP’s new tax plan.

How graduate school often works, especially in regards to Ph.D. programs, is that graduate students have some or all of their tuition waived in exchange for doing research for the department or teaching classes. They also tend to receive a yearly stipend to pay for needs such as housing and books. This is how my father got his Ph.D.; he didn’t have to pay tuition, and he taught economics classes while completing his own studies. The waived tuition isn’t currently considered taxable income, as students are not paying out of pocket. However, the GOP’s new tax bill is moving to eliminate this provision, which means students can be taxed on this waived tuition. This waived tuition is money students never had to begin with, so since it’s not actually income, how can it justifiably be taxed?

It’s important to note that not all universities and not all graduate programs will be affected by this bill should it become law. It all depends on whether the tuition is waived in a certain program at a certain school. All of the schools that I have applied to and am applying to have tuition waivers as a part of Ph.D. programs, because I would not be able to afford my studies on my own otherwise. Now, if I’m accepted to one of these programs, and if this tax bill is passed, I will have to pay tax on my tuition, potentially doubling my yearly taxes.

I am fortunate enough to be able to graduate from my undergraduate studies without student loans. However, I fear that I will have to take out loans for graduate school in order to cover the cost of the increased taxes that I will have to pay to achieve my dream and my academic passion. It has long been argued that there are long-term benefits to “investing” in graduate students. Carnegie Mellon University President Farnam Jahanian has said, “The education we provide undergraduates and graduate students is one of the most powerful engines for their future success and ability to contribute to society.” If the GOP’s tax bill is passed, not only will the possibility of myself and other aspiring graduate students to attend graduate school be in jeopardy, but our future successes, too. How can you put a price on that?

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