The tax bill passed recently by the U.S. House attacks a number of financially vulnerable populations in America in an attempt to offset tax cuts for the upper class. One particularly dangerous provision targets graduate students by counting tuition waivers as taxable income. This provision would cost each student thousands of dollars per year and make it next to impossible for any but the wealthiest students to afford graduate school.
After completing my undergraduate degree in Delaware, I knew that the best way I could give back to society was by researching the effects of early adversity on child development. The University of Minnesota is a central hub for top research in this field. I knew that the connections I would make and the skills I would acquire at the Institute of Child Development at the U would be second to none, making my decision to move to Minnesota extremely easy.
As a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, I receive a full tuition waiver. If not for this waiver, I and many others would not be able to afford graduate school. Graduate students live month to month on very modest wages (in my department, only about $22,000 annually) and are frequently deep in debt from undergraduate student loans. To add to this financial burden through an increase in our taxes is not just cruel, but detrimental to America's national progress.
The GOP tax proposal would count tuition waivers for graduate teaching and research assistants as taxable "income." But it's important to understand that this waiver is not money that I ever actually see. It does not put food on the table, nor does it pay my electric bill or rent. In other words, tuition waivers are not income. They are part of the package of pursuing graduate education and an essential reason why anyone can afford graduate school at all.
Under the House tax bill, my taxes would increase at minimum 40 percent — worth about two months' rent. This cost would be absolutely prohibitive to completing a graduate education at the University of Minnesota, or anywhere else. For some, it would mean having to take a side job on top of a 40- to 70-hour workweek. For others, it will mean leaving their graduate program altogether. Students from diverse cultural, economic and ethnic backgrounds would be hit the hardest.
I am a first-generation college student — like at least a quarter of the students in my program — raised by a middle-class, suburban, Republican family. First-generation college students are motivated, independent and resourceful. We are living proof that Americans are capable of changing the world for the better. My family was hopeful because the GOP claimed this tax bill would bolster the working and middle classes. However, it does the opposite. The House tax bill makes it impossible for my colleagues and me to live up to our full potential.
This tax bill would only succeed in forcing members of an upcoming generation of scientists, researchers and innovators to abandon their dreams of making the world better. Minnesotans should call on our leaders to oppose this bill. If we want America to be a competing force in the world, we need to foster the pursuit of knowledge. Taxing tuition waivers stifles that pursuit.
Carrie DePasquale is a Ph.D. student at the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota.