Rutgers graduate students protest tax reform

Graduate students at Rutgers University protested on Wednesday, their lives and academic futures clouded by uncertainty. They claim the tax reform bill proposed by House Republicans would strip out special waivers they count on to survive financially.

“This seems almost counterproductive because the tax bill would make it more difficult for grad students to stay in grad school because they won’t be able to afford to be here,” said graduate student Dee Payton.

“It would just make everything very difficult. A lot of my colleagues would drop out,” graduate student Morgan Moyer said.

Moyer’s pursuing a degree in linguistics and cognitive science. She’s one of about 145,000 grad students nationwide who don’t pay tuition because it’s waived by their college, so it’s tax free. But the House version of the tax bill eliminates that waiver. It would transform Moyer’s tuition into taxable income and send her income tax bill soaring to $3,000. For someone who basically lives on peanut butter, that’s a huge change.

“I don’t know whether I would be able to stay, either. But we’re here because we love research, and it’s possible for us to be here,” she said.

Many graduate students also teach classes, so if they leave, universities essentially lose instructors. Waived tuition draws graduates here from around the world for scientific research. Without it, a physics grad student from India notes international students may consider studying elsewhere.

“That affects America’s standing in terms of higher education in the world because now we’ll be like, ‘oh we should go to Canada or Europe or Australia.'” said Vaibhav Dwivedi, a graduate student. “If they don’t have the money the only degree they’d want to get are financial degrees and you’ll end up with a bunch of hedge fund managers.”

Critics claim the House bill hurts undergrads, too. In 2015, the IRS figures almost 350,000 New Jersey families deducted interest paid on their college tuition bills. In Jersey, that offset averages more than $1,100 a pop. Gone. While Senate reforms don’t hit higher education, critics call the House tax reform bill a killer.

“It puts a dagger in the heart of one of America’s and New Jersey’s greatest asset, which is that it has the best research universities — public and private — in the world,” New Jersey Police Perspective President Gordon MacInnes said.

Rutgers President Robert Barchi called the House bill, “… a disaster for higher education …We are hopeful that the Senate provisions will prevail. If not, we and other research universities will try to find ways to minimize or eliminate the tax impact of the House-passed provisions.”

The House and Senate conferences met on Wednesday afternoon working to reconcile the two versions into a final bill. The fate of these issues critical to higher education remains unclear.

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