6 December 2017

AAS Action Alert: Stop the Graduate Student Tuition Tax

Ashlee Wilkins

This week, ask your Senators and Representative to strongly oppose the repeal of the income exclusion for graduate tuition waivers in the final version of the tax reform bill.

The House of Representatives passed H.R. 1: Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on 16 November, and the Senate passed an amended version of the bill on 2 December. Under the House version, graduate student tuition waived by universities would be taxed as income, whereas under the Senate version such tuition would remain an eligible income deduction (i.e., it would be excluded as income and thus not subject to income tax). We discussed the implications of this and other provisions related to higher education in the House version in our recent Policy Alert. Subsequently the AAS signed on to a multisociety letter led by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) urging the Senate to reject the House provision, which they did. Now, the House and Senate have to resolve the differences between their two bills in a conference committee.

Until the final bill is announced and approved by both chambers of Congress, taxes on waived graduate tuition and the many other provisions affecting higher education are not finalized, but the conference committee has already begun its work and is expected to move quickly. The higher education provisions are numerous and potentially far-reaching, and could make graduate school far less accessible for many, with an outsized impact on people who are already underrepresented, underserved, and/or economically disadvantaged. 

Further reading and resources: 

What Can You Do?

  1. Find whom to contact based on your home address:
  2. Contact your Representative and two Senators via phone or email:
    • Customize the email text or a phone script (or outline, whatever you find useful) using the points raised in the above materials.
    • Identify yourself as a constituent (e.g., open with "Hello, my name is Jane Doe and I live in Mytown, Mystate, in Representative Jones' district").
    • Concisely explain your personal connection to the provision and the impact within your district and/or state.
  3. You may also wish to tweet to your representative. Generally, members will have links on their websites if they are active on Twitter.

It is crucial that you customize your message. According to the Congress Foundation’s 2017 study on how Congress members respond to communications, individualized messages and phone calls are about an order of magnitude more influential than form emails (refer to their Figure 1).

If you have any questions about this action alert, please get in touch with the AAS Public Policy staff at [email protected].