Local Graduate Students Push Back On GOP Tax Hike On Tuition

Nov 23, 2017

The U.S. House Republican's version of the Tax Cuts And Jobs Act threatens to eliminate a major tax benefit for graduate students. Now some area graduate students are speaking out against it.

Kalyani Hawaldar is pursuing a master's degree in biostatistics at the Gillings School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She works as a graduate research assistant, and in turn, the university covers her tuition fees and pays her a modest stipend for her living expenses.

Under the House tax plan, Hawaldar would have to report her tuition forgiveness as taxable income. She says that means her taxable income would go up from about $11,400 dollars a year – roughly her take-home pay – to $38,400. Both she and her fiance are graduate students.

"He and I are essentially living paycheck to paycheck," Hawaldar said. "If this bill becomes law, I don't know how we're going to survive."

Hawaldar says she feels frustrated and disappointed in the lawmakers behind the plan. So she decided to organize a phone bank for graduate students to call their representatives and ask them not to support this provision.

"My biggest hope out of all of this is that this tax on student waivers doesn't go through, but more than that, that senators and representatives know that we as students are going to hold them accountable for their decisions," Hawaldar said.

The provision would hit some students harder than others, particularly those with families of their own or who do not have personal savings to float them through their years in school. Private universities also tend to have higher tuition values than public universities. In all, Hawaldar says the bill could make graduate school less accessible and widen the education gap.

Participants at her on-site phone bank made dozens of calls to representatives, and Hawaldar says calls to action continue to spread on social media. Graduate students at Duke University are organizing a petition to North Carolina's senators, urging them to continue to waive tuition as income. And an event page for a national graduate student walk out in protest of the tax plan, scheduled for November 29, is drawing thousands of followers on Facebook.

Early releases of the Senate's tax plan do not include the provision that taxes tuition forgiveness. The House and Senate are expected to reconcile their tax plans after their Thanksgiving break.