By her own calculations, the taxes of a Rutgers University-Newark graduate student in biological sciences will go up from $2,824 last year to $5,174 under the new Republican tax-reform plan in the House of Representatives. According to a recent article in “The Verge” reporting on the new tax bill, this student went on to say that as a result she might have to drop out of her program, thereby losing four years’ worth of education.
In “The Chronicle of Higher Education,” Eric Kelderman explained that “under current law, college employees are allowed to get a break on tuition without counting that break as taxable income.” This includes graduate students, of course. But, according to Kelderman, “the bill released last week recommends that tuition waivers be counted as income and be subject to taxes.” He says under the new tax regime, “graduate students could find themselves paying taxes on a far greater amount of money than they actually receive in paychecks from their college.”
When I brought this matter to the attention of Angela Weisl, the director of Graduate Studies in the English Department and A&S Representative to the Provost’s Graduate Advisory Board, she stated flatly that this tax plan could “spell the end of [the English] grad program.” Prof. Weisl saw some calculations that led her to conclude that “[our English] TAs would pay about 1/2 their stipend (of $8,500 p/a) in taxes and GAs would pay about 2/3 of their stipend (of $5,400 p/a) in taxes under this tax plan.”
The article in “The Verge” cited Seton Hall expert in higher education finance Robert Kelchen, who pointed out that “[the bill is] very much a draft at this point.” In other words, there’s still time to eliminate this provision that targets graduate students.
If you are a graduate student—or undergrad—going home over the Thanksgiving break, please consider calling your Congressman, especially if s/he’s Republican, to urge him/her to make sure that tuition waivers are not counted as income. Just call the switchboard operator at (202) 224-3121. Doing so just might allow you to come back to Seton Hall next year.
Associate Professor of Writing
English Department, Seton Hall University