Aug. 10, 2017 - Morehouse School of Medicine doctoral student Tsedey Mekbib looks at a molecular mechanism as fellow doctoral student Christopher De Vera looks on. ERIC STIRGUS / ESTIRGUS@AJC.COM
Photo: ERIC STIRGUS
Photo: ERIC STIRGUS

Georgia students say tax plan will hurt education

Georgia college students are mounting a campaign to remove a provision from the federal House Republican tax plan they fear will cause some students to drop out, cause a decline in scientific research productivity and hurt the local economy.

The House GOP plan would add a tax onto tuition waivers that graduate and doctoral students receive for research work they do on campus. A group of student leaders at several public Georgia campuses have drafted a letter they plan to send to the Georgia Board of Regents before its monthly meeting Wednesday that raises their concerns. Some plan to deliver their fears about the bill in person.

“Many current graduate students will be unable to afford this new tax, and would fail to finish their programs as a result…Universities would suddenly produce fewer graduates, and would be left with fewer instructors for undergraduate courses,” said a draft of the letter sent Monday to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Nearly 50,000 graduate and professional students are currently enrolled in the University System of Georgia. Some students say they’ll have to take on more debt to continue their studies.

“I want to finish and I’m really worried about what impact it will have on graduate education,” said Vineet Tiruvadi, 30, a dual-degree student at Emory University and Georgia Tech.

Skanda Prasad, graduate student body president at Georgia Tech, said a significant loss of grad students could also impact undergraduate studies. Many grad students perform tasks, such as grading papers, and with fewer of them around “the quality of undergraduate education may suffer.”

Experts also say it could have an adverse impact on the local economy. For example, research done at Georgia State University during a recent 12-month stretch had an economic impact of about $400 million.

Campus leaders began discussing the potential impact of the tax change last week. It’s one of several provisions in the House bill that have raised concerns among educators on the college and k-12 level. Senate Republicans introduced its own tax plan last week. President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans have made tax reform a primary goal this year, arguing the current system is too complicated, hurts U.S. businesses and that changes will boost the American economy.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, said he’s received hundreds of calls and messages from students worried about the entire bill. He’s similarly concerned about the legislation and hopes the students will continue to “make noise” about the bill.

“It’s mean. It’s heartless and it’s making it really impossible for graduate students to receive an education,” Lewis said in a telephone interview Monday.

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., a member of the senate’s finance committee, declined comment Monday, a spokeswoman said, adding he’ll talk about the proposals after the legislative process is completed. Emory University president Claire Sterk wrote Isakson last month outlining her concerns about the House tax plan.

Michael Snell, 26, a third-year doctoral psychology student at the University of Georgia, is one of the student leaders concerned about the tuition waiver provision. Snell receives about $13,000 over a 10-month period for his teaching assistant work.

Snell is particularly worried that many low-income and minority students will no longer afford to continue their academic careers if the proposed plan becomes law.

Elizabeth Minten, 24, president of the Laney Graduate Student Council at Emory University, also said the provision could hurt graduate students with families.

“It would be a major hit,” she said.

Here are some additional provisions in the House tax plan that have some educators and students worried:

  • a 1.4 percent tax on net investment income of schools with more than 500 students and assets of at least $100,000 per student.
  • elimination of a $250 educator expense deduction, which helps offset some costs of classroom materials.
  • removing current rules that allow up to $2,500 deduction on interest paid on student loans.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

X