On the GOP Tax Plan


In our last editorial for this fall semester, we think it is important to further compound our finals stress by considering some of the dangerous repercussions of the Republican tax plan, a bill passed by the House and Senate that is expected to soon become law.

The plan, touted by many Republican lawmakers as intended to benefit the working and middle classes, will in fact target some of the most vulnerable populations. According to analysis by PBS, the changes include tax hikes for those earning less than $30,000 per year, having disastrous implications for lower income families in particular.

Although the pernicious effects of this legislation are broad, affecting the tax deductibility of school supplies and student loan payments, we have chosen to focus more narrowly on the ways in which the plan targets higher education.

We recognize that much of the conversation has been too heavily slanted away from discussing the effects that the proposal would have on especially vulnerable populations, and appreciate that even having the ability to consider graduate school represents a manifestation of some relative privilege.

At the same time, we acknowledge that enrollment or completion of a graduate program does not guarantee a change in marginalization status of someone, whether that is low-income status, race or gender. Further, for some students at Middlebury, the most immediate effects do not lie in affecting their ability to go to graduate school. The tax hikes for lower income families will be more damaging than a graduate school tax.

The Republican tax plan is, simply put, an attack on systems of higher education, affecting both private and public institutions. Among its provisions, the plan would tax tuition waivers for graduate students, increasing their tax payments by thousands in most cases, by some estimations.

It would also make college and university endowments taxable. We encourage readers to visit an article by news editor Nick Garber, “College Officials Voice Opposition to GOP Tax Bills,” which discusses the proposed endowment and student loan interest tax — with its approval meaning 12 or 13 students could not receive financial aid.

We encourage Middlebury College to make an official statement opposing the bill — especially in the midst of current efforts to support marginalized students.

The immediate effects of the plan are astounding, but its long-term implications are even more bleak. The plan would make elite institutions such as ours even more inaccessible to people of lower incomes. A person of more affluent means will always be able to go to graduate school, just in the way that wealthy institutions like Harvard will always find the resources they need for their graduate schools to thrive.

The real concern here, the people and places being most profoundly hurt by this plan, are those with fewer financial resources — the students and institutions with less private funding. Although those who support this bill may take issue with how liberal many academic institutions have become, those are not the ones which will be most profoundly affected by the plan. The plan would make elitist institutions like ours even more inaccessible to those with less financial stability.

For more vulnerable students, modifications like taxing tuition waivers can be the difference between going to graduate school and pursuing employment after graduation. These are decisions that should not have to be influenced by finances. Regardless of income, all students should have the opportunity to pursue a more advanced degree, should they so choose. Limiting the access to higher education only further inhibits social mobility and suppresses the lower and middle classes in our already oppressive economic systems.

Beyond the independent implications of the plan, there are the broader concerns for our nation’s ability to compete in global economies. Disincentivizing people from pursuing higher education will set us back globally. As Inside Higher Ed reported, more than 50 percent of those studying in STEM fields in graduate schools in the United States are from other countries; at some universities, the number is around 80 percent.

Many of those students will leave our country (especially with the encouragement of our prohibitive federal immigration system), bringing their skills and knowledge elsewhere, in place of keeping that skilled labor here.

For those of us facing already daunting decisions after graduation, the Republican tax plan only adds to those worries. The general uncertainty we already manage will be compounded by the Republican tax plan’s attack on higher education.

For many, the effects of the plan will be an inconvenience. For others, it may radically shift the options available to them for their futures. In a world that should be dedicated to expanding access to education for all, this plan works against an admirable mission under the false claim of benefitting the middle class.