Piedmont students who plan to pursue advanced degrees after graduation will have to watch and wait to see what happens with the future of higher education in America. When the GOP’s proposed tax bill threatened to treat graduate students’ tuition as taxable income, students all over America organized to protest what would essentially end their chances at earning their masters and doctorate degrees. For most of them, that would mean halting years of hard work, planning and research, completely upending the trajectory of their lives and their budding careers.
In addition to taxing tuition, the bill proposed to end the tax break that grad students have traditionally received due to their student loans’ higher interest rates, as well as the “lifetime learning credit” which takes 20 percent off the first $10,000 of a student’s education expenses. Republicans in the House of Representatives have proposed a rewrite of the Higher Education Act which would cap federal student loans for graduate students and do away with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which helps students who take government jobs, including teachers, police officers and firefighters, or who serve in the Peace Corps and in nonprofit organizations to avoid a lifetime of debt. It amounts to nothing less than an all-out attack on higher education.
For those of us who will depend on these breaks to make it through grad school, it feels like a personal attack. Even though those threats were ultimately avoided in the final version of the tax bill, thanks to the students who joined forces across the country to make sure their voices were heard, the fight is far from over. Our chances at completing advanced degrees are far from safe. Important research is at stake as well. Most students who receive tuition waivers are studying science, technology, engineering and math. And if those forward-thinking students’ paths are cut short by backward politics, America will be left in the dust.