Tax Reformed Out of the Grad School Equation: From the First Year

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Next week I will complete my first semester as a Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. As a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) student and woman of color (WOC), navigating the current political climate in the U.S. has not been easy. I have held tight to my passion for STEM and fighting for equity in my field because continuing to pursue those goals is how I #Resistevery single day. Graduate school is not easy by any means; every week is a challenge of its own and I have never worked so hard, so consistently. Yet through it all, I feel incredibly privileged to have the opportunity to do what I love and to carry on the legacy of #WOCinSTEM who came before me.
 

However, as the proposed GOP tax reform barrels toward becoming law, I feel as though I’ve been passed a baton to continue on in a race that has always been rigged against women of color.

 

What exactly does that mean?

On November 16th, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass the Republican Tax Cuts and Jobs ActThen, in the early hours of Saturday, December 2nd, 2017 the Senate passed its version of the tax bill which must now be reconciled with the House version. Among other large-scale reforms, the Republican tax bill allows tuition reductions, waivers, and exemptions to be considered taxable income, which undoes years of financial protections for graduate students.

 

What exactly does that mean?

According to the American Council on Education, at least 145,000 graduate students received a tuition reduction in 2011–12. In Ph.D. programs in particular, students receive tuition remission as well as an annual stipend. These stipends are issued as a form of compensation in exchange for the labor Ph.D. students perform as full-time employees of their universities. Graduate students take on invaluable roles as Research and/or Teaching Assistants while pursuing their degrees; they conduct research in labs and/or assist in teaching undergraduate courses in addition to fulfilling their academic obligations.

 

Graduate students who have their tuition reduced or remitted never receive any portion of those funds––stipends are their sole source of income.

 

The Republican-led tax bill paints tuition remission as if it is a portion of the annual income graduate students earn when, for us, the tuition we are charged exists only on paper.

As a full-time Ph.D. student and graduate research assistant attending a public university, I immediately realized the threat that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act poses to students seeking advanced degrees.

Jedidah Isler