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Graduate students protest U.S. tax plan

Proposal to make tuition taxable could make students pay thousands more each year

by Andrea Widener
November 30, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 48

Credit: Natalie Hudson-Smith
Graduate students protest proposed taxes on tuition at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. 

Students marching on the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, campus. One holds a sign that says “Poor Pay High Tax=Death of Higher Ed.”

Credit: Natalie Hudson-Smith
Graduate students protest proposed taxes on tuition at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. 

Thousands of U.S. graduate students walked away from their labs, teaching assignments, and classes on Nov. 29 to protest provisions in a Republican tax reform package that could force them to pay thousands of dollars in extra taxes.

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, chemistry grad student Becky Rodriguez joined hundreds of other protesters braving –5.5 °C temperatures to show her outrage at the proposal.

“I know that if this were to pass, I would have to drop out of graduate school because I wouldn’t be able to afford it,” Rodriguez says.

Currently, stipends that cover tuition are tax-free for graduate students. But that would change under the tax reform bill that the U.S. House of Representatives passed in November. It could mean thousands of dollars in extra taxes for graduate students, most of whom make less than $30,000 a year.

The Senate version of the measure currently keeps tuition waivers for graduate students tax-free, but the bill is still under negotiation.

“That is part of the reason that we wanted to escalate to a larger action across the country,” says Jack Nicoludis, a chemistry graduate student who helped plan the action at Harvard University.

Nicoludis connected with other protesters nationwide through his graduate student union. He’s also been participating in phone banks to call legislators.

“We want to make sure that both the Senate and the House know that this would affect us horribly, not only individual grad students but the competitiveness of higher education in the U.S.,” he says.

Rodriguez is especially concerned that the additional taxes would disproportionately affect minorities and first-generation students like her, whose parents can’t help shoulder the extra financial burden.

“Going to grad school shouldn’t be a matter of wealth. It should be the ability to pursue science, the ability to pursue things you are passionate about,” she says. “I hope that people see this as a wake-up call.



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