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GOP Tax Reform Threatens Future of Higher Education

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In a 227 to 205 vote Thursday, the House of Representatives passed major tax reform legislation, described by President Donald Trump as “one of the great Christmas presents,” that has significant implications for many people, including Oberlin students. The bill will now move to the Senate for consideration.

Republicans have been touting the bill — known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act — as a blessing for the middle class. They have also declared that it will serve as a catalyst for economic growth. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan commented that “the whole purpose of this [bill] is a middle-class tax cut,” and Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin has stated that the bill is “about bringing trillions of dollars back on shore and creating economic boon for our country.”

Ordinary Americans are not actually the focus of this tax plan, however. President Trump’s chief Economic Advisor Gary Cohn confirmed in an interview with CNBC that the bill delivers four times more in business and estate tax cuts than in cuts for individuals. The major components of the bill are a reduction in corporate tax rates from 35 to 20 percent, an increase in the standard deduction, a repeal of the estate tax, and a reduction in the number of tax brackets from seven to four.

Critics have reason to believe that the repeal of the estate tax serves to benefit the wealthiest Americans. This is because merely 0.1 percent of estates are charged with the tax, as it only applies to estates with assets that surpass $5.3 million dollars. Critics of the administration say that the commercials and publicity surrounding the bill are ultimately an attempt to fool the middle class into believing that the bill will help them — the real winners here are the wealthy people and large corporations.

There is a lot of lost government revenue from the massive reduction in the corporate tax rate. In order to pay for this, certain people’s taxes will be raised. Republican Congresswoman Diane Black explains this when she says, “there are a number of pieces in this code, as we move along, that are not going to be making everyone happy.”

Oberlin families may find that there are pieces of the bill that will hurt them. One example of this can be seen in how the bill removes state and local tax deductions, often referred to as SALT. Residents of states with high taxes are the biggest beneficiaries of these deductions. Many Oberlin students come from families that live in such states – in fact, one-fourth of Oberlin students are from New York and California alone.

Among those that will be impacted if the legislation passes are college students — both in Oberlin and elsewhere — by removing a deduction on interest paid on student loans. As President Carmen Ambar expressed in an email to Oberlin College students and employees, “The proposed legislation diverts resources from our students, and adds to the complexity of the tax code when the goal is simplification.”

The bill also negatively impacts college students in Oberlin and elsewhere by removing a deduction on interest paid on student loans. Currently, people paying for student loans are able to reduce their taxable income by up to $2,500. If the GOP plan passes, this deduction will cease to exist. Over 38 percent of students at Oberlin have taken out loans to help them pay for college — the eradication of this deduction would significantly impact their ability to do so.

The plan also affects graduate students’ loans. Oberlin graduates tend to go on to pursue advanced degrees; the College ranks first among comparable institutions in the number of students that go on to complete PhDs. Certain provisions in the GOP bill could change this by deterring current Oberlin students from furthering their education at graduate school.

It is common for students pursuing PhDs to have their tuitions forgiven and to receive a stipend. Under the current tax system, these students only have to pay taxes on that stipend. With the GOP plan, students would still have to pay taxes on their stipend, and in addition would be required to pay taxes on their tuition — even if that tuition was forgiven — which would typically amount to costs in the range of $50,000, according to NPR. These changes would afford students even less money with which to support themselves post graduation.

These revisions will make education much less accessible to undergraduate and graduate students across the country, as many students depend on the tax breaks from forgiven tuition and interest paid on student loans. This is why Ambar urged students to familiarize themselves with the legislation — there are countless provisions that hurt not only Oberlin students, but higher education as a whole.

Big corporations and the wealthiest Americans had much to smile about Thursday following the bill’s passage through the House — if this tax break makes it out of the Senate, many Oberlin families and students will not be as lucky.

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1 Comment

One Response to “GOP Tax Reform Threatens Future of Higher Education”

  1. Ummmmm on November 28th, 2017 9:31 AM

    Oberlin is widely viewed as an over-priced college which grants degrees often incapable of aiding students in finding gainful employment. With respect, you should be less worried about access to education, and more worried about the value of the education you are getting. While, in general, it is reductive to equate education with employability, it is not unreasonable to point out that student tax breaks and debt relief are little more that government subsidies to the education industry, and such subsidies have only resulted in the progressive inflation of the price of education, and although availability of post secondary education is now at an all time high, the utility of such education is at an all time low.

    Oberlin is fading in its ability to recruit and retain students. Higher education itself is widely regarded as overpriced, wildly over-sold, and of often questionable utility. It is all very well to complain about how bad rich people want to exploit poor you, and indeed, many surely want to. But you have bought into a scam, and that’s on your head. You are also defending the legitimacy of the scam, which is appalling. Some re-thinking is in order.

    [Reply]

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Established 1874.