Editorial: New Tax Overhaul May Not Be Good For Students

On Nov. 16, in a 227-205 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the GOP’s Tax Plan which is intended to overhaul the country’s tax code and implement policies to allow tax cuts for companies to encourage them not to move abroad to countries with lax tax policies. On the same day, the U.S. Senate passed its own version of the bill.

The Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center projects that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, as proposed by the House, would somewhat boost the country’s GDP and that the estimated revenue loss resulting from the tax breaks would be significantly reduced by the increase in taxable income. However, the analysis also projects an increase in debt as a share of the GDP of up to 9 percent by 2037. The Center’s analysis projects that the Senate version of the bill would on average reduce taxes for all income groups, but higher-income households would be given higher tax cuts, with the largest cuts going to those in the 95th to 99th percentiles of the income distribution. By 2027, however, there would be a modest increase in taxes for lower-income groups and a decrease for higher-income groups, and 63 percent of taxpayers would be paying higher taxes.

If enacted into law, the proposed tax overhaul would certainly affect every household and every business in America. The education sector will not be exempted. College and university students would bear the brunt.

The American Council on Education and a consortium of 45 other higher education associations point out in an open letter to the House Ways and Means Committee that the House bill, taken in its entirety, would reduce the number of students enrolling in colleges and universities, increase the cost for those who do enroll, and undermine the financial stability of public and private colleges and universities. In an op-ed in The Washington Post, the president of the American Council on Education, Ted Mitchell, worries that “The House tax revision proposal would discourage participation in postsecondary education and make college more expensive for those who do enroll.”

The House bill would eliminate tax benefits for non-traditional students taking longer than five years to complete their degrees, part-time students, graduate students, and lifetime learners; repeal the Hope Scholarship Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit and tuition deduction, the Student Loan Interest Deduction, the Section 117(d) tuition reduction assistance, and the Section 127 employer-provided educational assistance; eliminate all personal exemptions on deduction from income for college-aged dependents; double the standard deduction on individuals, significantly reducing the value of deductions for charitable donations, leading to less charitable donations to go towards student scholarships.

The Senate version of the proposed tax reform, on the other hand, seems somewhat a little more palatable. The Senate bill preserves the Hope Scholarship Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit and tuition deduction, the Student Loan Interest Deduction, the Section 117(d) tuition reduction assistance, and the Section 127 employer-provided educational assistance. However, like the House version, the proposed Senate bill eliminates all personal exemptions on deduction from income for college-aged dependents and doubles the standard deduction for individuals and couples.

In an interview on “Stateside” on Michigan Radio, Kalamazoo College President Jorge Gonzalez says, “It’s baffling to me that in a time when we are in the era of the knowledge economy, Congress is trying to impose a tax on knowledge.”

What version of the tax plan will make it to President Trump’s desk is unclear, but what is clear is that the tax plan, if passed, will likely impact students and the quality of education they may receive in years to come.

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