When the House of Representatives passed its tax bill late last month, provisions that would have had a direct impact on graduate education in the United States were met with scrutiny, anxiety, and action by students and universities. The Senate bill, which passed over the weekend, does not include some of the most concerning provisions, but the proposed changes still raise questions about why lawmakers seem to be targeting higher education — and how colleges and universities can do a better job of demonstrating their value to taxpayers.
We spoke with James Soto Antony, who directs the higher education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, about the ramifications of proposed tax changes and the significance of the legislative debate for higher education leaders.
Why is it thinkable to consider policies that could prevent people from pursuing higher degrees, potentially damaging America's entrepreneurial, research edge?
It is hard to understand why the House bill taxes, or takes aim at, deductions intended to support students. Their proposed treatment of tuition/fee waivers as unearned income would clearly present a burden to students. We will have to see what elements make it into the final legislation as things develop. But, in all, students and universities were right to be anxious, and higher education is not out of the woods yet. Either way, both tax plans have elements that will require universities to figure out how to work within the new tax structure to support students and their institutions.