Congressmen, RU-N Students, Administrators Voice Concerns Over Tax Bill

by: Nora Luongo

Dean Lewis at the podium
December 5, 2017

A new GOP-tax bill would harm university students across the nation, by taxing teaching fellowships, tuition remission, and other programs that make going to college more affordable. That was the message of three New Jersey Congressmen, who spoke at Rutgers University-Newark (RU-N) on Monday, December 4 to criticize the plan. Jan Lewis, Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences-Newark (FASN), and several Rutgers students, who would be directly affected by the proposed changes in the tax plan, also spoke out against the proposed bill, citing the difficulties it would create for struggling middle and lower class students and the chilling effect it would ultimately have on innovation and industry in New Jersey and across the nation.

Under the version of the bill approved by the House of Representatives, students would have to pay taxes on their tuition waivers as if they were income. This means students on a full scholarship might still end up paying tens of thousands of dollars for their education. “Tax on tuition remissions will hurt every graduate student teaching and research assistants who will suddenly find attending graduate school unaffordable.” said Jan Lewis in her opening remarks, “Supporting higher education, supporting research, supporting graduate students who work 18 hours a day making new discoveries that will make all of our lives better is a matter of national interest, not just for us, but for generations to come. This is vital research that is literally the difference between life and death.  This is not a partisan issue.”

Bill PascarellRep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-9th, said the bill would provide a “devastating blow” to students pursuing graduate education, “and make it more expensive and further out of reach for the low- and middle-income families of America.”

Peter Maggali, an undergraduate in the Honors College pursuing a double major in math and biology, expressed anxiety about his current plan to attend medical school once he graduates. 

Rep. Albio Sires, D-8th, and Rep. Donald Payne Jr., D-10th, also spoke out against the bill. Sires voiced his concern for the young people of his district. “These deductions are a lifeline; they are why our kids are able to go to school.”  Sires said he attended college on a scholarship and went on to add, “All my life I have fought to give people opportunity, because I have never forgotten where I came from, and how I got to where I am today.”

Nicole LahaneNicole Lahanas, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry and also works as a teaching assistant, said in her statement that she, like many other graduate students, relied on both tuition remission and her paid position to get through graduate school. "Without these opportunities, many of us would not be able to continue our doctoral studies.  Taxing tuition remission only serves to make graduate degrees prohibitively expensive for many qualified students, many of which will have no choice but to walk away from their studies altogether or pursue them abroad.  Students should not have to choose between an education and the simple necessities of everyday life.”

Photos by Karen Sanderson-Roche