A new tax for grad students

Illustration by: Rebecca Kottke

Illustration by: Rebecca Kottke

As the federal tax bill made its way through the U.S. senate, many graduate students at UMD and throughout the country worried about its outcome. The tax bill, already passed by the House of Representatives, will not only cost the school more money, but it will also cost our graduate assistants and graduate instructors the most.

Currently, graduate students are able to work off tuition by being paid to be instructors or assistants. The money goes directly towards the students’ tuition, and never comes to them in the form of a check. But with this new bill, graduate students could soon be taxed for this “source of income.”

Anthony Howe is in his third semester at UMD as a graduate instructor. A typical week consists of 10-15 hours of outside planning, 75-minute classes on Tuesday and Thursday and two in office hours on Thursday. Added up, Anthony takes on about the same course load as a normal instructor.

“My goal is to go into teaching,” Howe said. “It was really important that I gained some experience in school, but this opportunity was really two-fold. I wouldn’t have been able to afford it without it and it just happened to be what I wanted to do.”

With graduate school costing much more than undergraduate education, to justify the expenses, many students resort to instructorship or becoming teacher assistants.

Although Anthony doesn’t believe this bill will affect him, if passed, he does believe it will cause many to turn down the possibility of achieving their graduate degree.

“It at best will double their taxes and they will deal with it,” Howe said of future graduate students, “and at worst, it will dissuade a number of people from pursuing graduate education in the United States.”

With students coming out of undergraduate careers with $10 to $100,000 in student debt, for them to justify taking on so much more would be hard for a lot of people to do.

“What this bill does, is it takes my tuition waiver,” Howe said. “For instance the program I am in at UMD graduate school costs $14,000 a semester, effectively I get about a $25,000 break on my tuition. I don’t see any of that money, none of it goes in my bank account, but what this tax bill does is it takes that money, which is waived on my tuition, and taxes it as earned income. Which for me, would effectively double the taxes I have to pay without me seeing a dollar.”

For a country that already has $1.4 trillion in student debt and imports post-graduates from other countries, this is something the United States really cannot afford.

“We take on a huge load,” Howe said of the work he and other graduate instructors do. “I don’t know how you’d replace that. It’s a cornerstone of graduate education that I don’t think you can get rid of without eliminating what graduate education does.”

The possibility of an offset provided by the school initially seems like the perfect solution, but not only would it be difficult to justify with a deficit, but the more you try to offset the taxes, the more taxable income there is.

“You’re expected in graduate school to start navigating your professional goals and start navigating where your heart is in the kind of work you want to pursue and the bill, for a lot of people would take that away, which is deplorable,” Howe said.

Howe had some advice for future graduate students who may be on the fence about taking their educational career any further.

“I encourage those looking to pursue a graduate education to reach out to the person in Congress representing them and tell them that this would disincentive the work they are trying to do.”

Through the UMN Advocates Website , you can reach members of Congress and tell them to support our graduates.

VoicesAddie Marzinske