The Republican tax bill poised to reach President Donald Trump’s desk this week leaves graduate students largely unscathed. But it upends the tax benefits enjoyed by about two dozen large university endowments — including Yale’s $27.2 billion endowment.
The final version of the bill unveiled late Friday leaves in place the student loan interest deduction and the tax break on tuition waivers, both of which would have been struck down under a version of the plan that passed the House of Representatives in November. The final bill — a combination of separate plans passed in the Senate and the House — was approved by the House on Tuesday afternoon and is expected to pass the Senate later this week. Under the original House plan, graduate students at Yale would have seen their annual taxes tripled from $3,000 to $8,500.
Still, the final tax plan is bad news for universities with large endowments. Despite weeks of lobbying by educational institutions, the final version includes a 1.4 percent tax on university endowments’ investment income that targets universities with more than $500,000 in endowment per full-time student.
Yale, which boasts roughly $2 million in endowment funds per full-time student, would have had to pay around $25 million in taxes in fiscal 2017 if such a tax had been in place. Three other Ivy League schools — Princeton, Harvard and Dartmouth — will also be subject to the new tax given the size of their endowments.
“We are relieved that Congress is reaffirming the importance of graduate education by preserving the tax exemption for tuition remission for graduate students,” Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Lynn Cooley wrote in an email to the News. “At the same time, we are dismayed that Congress does not appreciate the vital role that endowments play in enabling Yale and its peer schools to sustain investments in education, financial assistance, and transformative research that benefits society, creating jobs and economic growth.”
Students, faculty and administrators at Yale have come together in the past two months to fight provisions in the tax bill with negative implications for higher education.
University President Peter Salovey has made the tax bill a priority of his fall schedule, calling on Yale alumni on Capitol Hill and beyond to help protect the school’s tax benefits. Graduate students have organized phone banking campaigns to voice concerns to their congressional representative and published op-eds criticizing the tax plan in local newspapers.
“We are grateful for the many students at Yale and campuses nationwide who raised their voices loud and clear on this issue,” Cooley said.
Sarah Smaga GRD ’19, who sits on the steering committee of the Graduate Student Assembly, said that while Republican lawmakers were hashing out the differences between the Senate and House tax bills, several Yale graduate students wrote articles in their local newspapers denouncing the tax on tuition waivers that was ultimately left out of the plan.
Smaga added that political engagement remains crucial as lawmakers work on an extensive rewrite of the Obama-era Higher Education Act, a 1965 law designed to provide financial assistance to students.
“The House has already started on their version of the bill, and it ends a lot of loan forgiveness programs,” Smaga said. “After the holidays, it’s going to be important that students and universities continue to speak out in support of policies that make higher education accessible and affordable.”
The tax plan is projected to add $1.46 trillion over a decade to the nation’s $20 trillion debt.
Jingyi Cui | firstname.lastname@example.org