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Proposed Tax Reform Raises Concerns Among Graduate Students

by on December 01, 2017 9:56 AM

A crowd gathered in front of the Allen Street gates in State College this week to protest a proposed federal tax reform that could have significant impact on graduate students

One of the tax code changes in the GOP-authored bill passed by the House is that the tuition waiver for graduate students would become taxable income. Currently, graduate students who receive the waiver don't have to pay taxes on it if they are teaching or conducting research.

"Me and the other 4,000 graduate assistants here at Penn State would be paying a couple thousand dollars more in taxes every year," said graduate student Doug Kulchar. "We don't make a lot of money. Graduate education would become unfeasible for a lot of us if this bill was to pass."

The Senate tax reform bill, which is expected to be voted on this week, does not include the tax on the waiver. However, if it passes, the House and Senate will reconcile the differences before sending it on to President Donald Trump, meaning the tax is still on the table.

Penn State President Eric Barron said in a statement last week that the bill "would create significant financial burden for Penn State’s 4,000 graduate assistants and 400 graduate fellows — and could fundamentally alter graduate student education throughout the United States — by making it financially impossible for many students to pursue advanced degrees."

Michelle Rodino-Colicino, associate professor of media studies, organized the local protest, one many nationwide, and said the loss of graduate assistants would be significant to the educational mission of the university.

"I would have to change my approach to teaching. Students would get short-changed. They would not get the same quality of education without the number of hard hours and quality hours the student I work with puts in for this class," she said.

The House version of the bill also repeals the provision that excludes tuition discounts for university employees, spouses and dependents, a benefit the university says it uses to recruit faculty and staff. The repeal is not in the Senate version, but if it becomes law would impact about 4,200 individuals at Penn State. University employees who receive the benefit would have to pay an additional combined $5 million in taxes each year.

A measure in the House bill also would repeal the ability for former students to deduct up to $2,500 in student loan interest payments. That would affect more than 200,000 former Penn State students and 19,500 graduating students annually.

Centre County Report's Jordan Cioppa has more from the graduate student protest.

This video is produced by and for Centre County Report and shared through a partnership with

The Centre County Report is produced by students and faculty from Penn State's College of Communications. It is designed to serve a dual purpose. It is a source of news and information to the residents of Centre County.
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