I was happy to see that the current Senate version of the tax reform bill left the tuition waiver in place for both undergrads and grads, and I am REALLY hoping that that doesn’t change during mediation while they hash out the final bill. Taxing students on tuition waivers seems like a cheap shot at people who don’t have all that much income to begin with. And, from a political standpoint, seems like a pretty dumb idea since it will tick off a large percentage of an entire population demographic. I’m hoping it was just bluster by the House knowing the Senate would take it out. Anyway, enough on that.
I have mentioned in a couple previous blog posts that I am frustrated with where we are as far as the cost of higher ed goes. I think we keep throwing money at the system in an attempt to help students and we really just end up inflating costs without a commensurate increase in education received. We add more paperwork and overhead and the like and in the end, we’re not all that farther than we were before. Anyway, interesting article that ties that in a little bit with the current tax situation:
Worth a read if you’ve been following the tax reform bill. I’m glad it doesn’t try to remove blame from congress for the removing the waiver but I thought they made some excellent points about what higher ed has done to exacerbate the problem. Some of the more interesting comments are:
“Like grants, tuition is another way the university makes money from science. While tuition looks mainly like an artifact of accounting for most graduate students in the humanities and social sciences (where the university just pays itself for tuition), in the natural and applied sciences, tuition is a way for the university administration to get more money out of the public. As the university bulletin explains, “for a standard [research assistant] appointment in addition to the salary, the grant pays half of the tuition.” In other words, the government — through the National Science Foundation, NIH, NASA and other agencies — is transferring $20,500 per year per research assistant into Yale’s accounts, at a time when the university endowment is at an all-time high above $27 billion. This tuition transfer certainly totals in the millions every year for Yale alone, and must add up to a mind-boggling sum across the country. Again, this is money that the public pays universities for granting graduate students the privilege of working for them to create more wealth for those same universities.”
“The most self-serving reason university administrators continue to charge tuition, though, is to use the fact that they waive payment of it as propaganda. To oppose our unionization, the administration here has repeatedly cited this money that we never see as evidence of our privileged status, suggesting that our income is much higher than it actually is (the exact argument they now want us to deter Congress from making).
Adding all these facts up leads to a disturbing conclusion. Yale doesn’t want the Republican bill to pass, and neither do I. But it would appear that Yale and most other elite universities would rather maintain a steady income stream from the public and their ability to disavow our value to the institutions — even at the cost of our potential individual financial insolvency. Increasingly corporate university administrations have helped create the situation where the Republicans could try something like this. They could still change course in a way that would moot the tax bill: They could recognize that graduate student workers add value and stop charging tuition.”
Yes, it’s lazy of me to just copy and past so much but I thought the article made some good points and I didn’t want to summarize. I mostly found it interesting when they mention that institutions talk all the time about how much they have to pay for our tuition and how we are privileged that they pay it for us and so our income is higher than we actually see. And yet, when congress uses the same rationale, they don’t want it to fly. I am totally aware that there are costs to administering the paperwork for us to graduate and there are overhead costs for equipment (which we still often pay for from project funds), but if we aren’t taking classes, lets drop tuition or lower it to a reasonable level commensurate with the services the university actually provides (ignoring the fact that we are actually bring money into the university for cheap labor). Turns out Yale actually only charges fourth-year PhD students to $600 per term, likely recognizing that these students aren’t taking classes and are just low-wage employees of the university. If universities could take a similar approach to grad students everywhere, we would have more money for actual research and the tax waiver would be almost moot because our “additional income” from getting the waiver would be a lot smaller and unlikely to push anyone into a higher tax bracket. Would it be annoying to pay taxes on that $600, of course! But we’d be a lot better off that paying taxes on tuition rates (and out-of-state fees) that we now have.
Haha, so that was a longer rant that expected. I really hope the whole discussion becomes meaningless when the final tax bill comes out, but either way, it’s probably still worth revisiting how we bill grad students when it comes to tuition and other fees by recognizing we are employees of the university and probably shouldn’t be paying so much for the opportunity to be an employee. Not likely to happen (especially not before we graduate), but one can hope.