Dear Congress: Our country needs graduate students. Don’t tax us out of higher education.

Dear Senator ___,

My husband and I, alumni of the University of Wisconsin–Madison and current graduate students at the University of Washington, are deeply concerned about a proposed change in the tax law that is included in the tax reform bill currently in debate in the House of Representatives. This bill would require graduate students to pay taxes on their tuition remission, a move we believe will price people out of pursuing higher education.

Tuition remission is provided to many graduate students pursuing doctoral degrees in addition to a modest stipend. In exchange for working as a research assistant, teaching assistant, project assistant, or fellow, we are excused from paying the cost of tuition. Tuition remission essentially functions as a scholarship, but rather than sending money to students to help cover the cost of education, universities directly pay their tuition. Unlike most scholarships, however, tuition remission is only provided with the stipulation that a graduate student receiving this aid is working for the university.

Without tuition remission, most students who would like to pursue a doctoral degree would be unable to afford it. If tuition remission is taxed, my husband and I would be required to pay taxes on an additional $53,693 each year. Our annual tax bill would jump from $6,000 to $17,000, which means that we would pay taxes at a rate of 27.7%. Some of our colleagues would pay taxes at an even higher rate, upwards of 40%.

This is an egregious attack on higher education and America’s legacy of scientific achievement. It will make graduate school inaccessible to many, preventing the best and brightest students from receiving the training they need to serve as industry leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs. Graduate students play an essential role in conducting and communicating research at universities, research that helps us find cures for diseases, engineer new technology, and lead global efforts to solve society’s most pressing problems. If fewer people can afford to go to graduate school, there will be fewer people hired to support undergraduate students and assist with university projects, much of the cutting-edge research we do will be discontinued, and — in the long-run — there will be fewer individuals with the education and training necessary to fill crucial roles in our economy.

We were promised a tax cut for all middle-class Americans. Graduate students are part of the middle class, and under this plan our tax bill will skyrocket. It is unfair to provide tax cuts to the wealthiest in our nation while taxing students out of education. We urge you to reject this component of the tax reform bill.


Mrs. Olivia Sanderfoot

National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow

School of Environmental & Forest Sciences

University of Washington

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My husband and I celebrating my graduation from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in May of 2015.

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Badger alumna. Bird nerd. Lover of science. | Interests include birds, wildlife, conservation, sustainability, #scipol, and #scicomm. |

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