Final version of tax bill spares graduate students from much higher taxes

6 months 2 days 1 hour ago Wednesday, December 20 2017 Dec 20, 2017 Wednesday, December 20, 2017 2:00:00 PM CST December 20, 2017 in News
By: Matt Schmittdiel, KOMU 8 Reporter

COLUMBIA - Graduate students will no longer see a proposed tax on their tuition waivers in the the final draft of the Republican tax bill.

The original draft included a provision that would count tuition waived by the university as taxable income, meaning graduate students would potentially be paying thousands more in taxes each year.

MU Graduate Student Association President Sarah Senff said many graduates would have suffered under this proposed tax bill.

"I know that a number of graduate students had spoken to me about feeling like they would have to potentially drop out in January and even to be able to finish the year if this had gone through," Senff said.

CNBC reported in an article the American Council of Education estimated approximately 145,000 graduate students could have been affected by this measure.

MU Director of Student Financial Aid Nicholas Prewett said graduate waivers make up a substantial portion of payment for graduate education.

"Last year $36,000,000 was paid by graduate student waivers. If you compare that we had graduate students take out about $50,000,000 in student loans."

Prewett said MU has been very outspoken against making tuition waivers taxable.

"Our institution and the Vice Chancellor for Graduate Studies Jeni Hart has been very vocal on behalf of the graduate students," Prewett said. "Letting our members of congress and Missouri delegation know that it would have an impact on our graduate students in the total amount of money that they would have to finance education."

Prewett said about 3,800 MU graduate students last year received some sort of tuition remission or graduate teaching assistant role to help finance their education.

"Over half of our graduate students receive direct support for their education from the institution," Prewett said. "So any change in income or any change to the tax code, could increase the burden on our graduate students."

Senff said there is a general sense of relief, but she cannot relax just yet.

"There are plenty of other things to be concerned about that affect graduate students and the working and middle class pretty negatively with this plan anyway. It’s better, but it’s not good," Senff said. "It is hard to feel really joyous when you know your friends and your family are getting screwed."

Senff and Prewett agree on that graduate students are part of a non-traditional population and they do not just live single issues lives.

"While there is some sort of ability to take a breath now when it comes to this part of myself that is a graduate student. . . There's this part of me that is a women. This part of me a middle class person. This part of me who has had very serious issues with my health insurance at this institution and grows nervous what is happening with the federal budget," Senff said. "Those parts of me are struggling to remain calm I think still."

"A lot of students are coming back to school married, or with children and you know the budge set up to handle graduate students is really focused on a single student going through college," Prewett said. "From what we see a lot of graduate students are trying finance not only there education, but also some of those extra factors.

Prewett said his office sees a dramatic increase in the total amount of student loans for students living with theses types of situations.

Senff said it has been interesting to see how higher education has really come together about this issue to make sure this tax proposition does not go through to the final draft.

"I am and have been very grateful to all the administrators and professors and graduate students who worked really hard on this campaign to make sure this doesn’t happen," Senff said. 

Senff said even though this is one issue she does not have to worry about anymore, she still suggests everyone to keep calling your senators and representatives to make your voice heard. She said we can change more in the upcoming vote on the tax bill than just the cut to the tuition waiver tax.

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