Pflugradt: Examining the tax provisional that could bankrupt graduate students

Should the provision be reconciled and approved by the Senate, graduate assistants in communication, like me, will see their taxable income leap from roughly $8,500 to $13,500 or more."

Krystal+Iseminger%2C+an+English+graduate+teaching+assistant+from+Fall+2015+to+Spring+2017%2C+grades+paper+at+her+desk.+
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Pflugradt: Examining the tax provisional that could bankrupt graduate students

Krystal Iseminger, an English graduate teaching assistant from Fall 2015 to Spring 2017, grades paper at her desk.

Krystal Iseminger, an English graduate teaching assistant from Fall 2015 to Spring 2017, grades paper at her desk.

Selena Favela

Krystal Iseminger, an English graduate teaching assistant from Fall 2015 to Spring 2017, grades paper at her desk.

Selena Favela

Selena Favela

Krystal Iseminger, an English graduate teaching assistant from Fall 2015 to Spring 2017, grades paper at her desk.

There are a lot of reasons to go to graduate school.

For some, a master’s degree can be the determining factor in getting a pay raise or promotion. Others enter the program because it gives them an upper hand in the job market.

People like me entered into a graduate program because, one — it buys me some time while I figure out what I want to do, and two — I was fortunate enough to receive a teaching assistantship that pays me a yearly stipend of just over $8,000, and waives the cost of my tuition.

With the tuition waiver, I can avoid paying nearly $6,000 in tuition charges each academic year, though I still pay student fees, which come to $1,316 a year for graduate students taking seven or more credit hours.

Tuition costs at Wichita State continue to increase with each academic year, but it doesn’t affect me. My tuition is taken care of.

But recently, I’ve been thinking about the cost of my tuition more and more.

A little over a week ago, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a tax reform bill that includes a costly provision to graduate students like me.

The bill counts tuition waivers at taxable income — money we never actually see.

The provision isn’t included in the Senate’s version of the bill, which hasn’t passed.

This, coupled with the provision that would make student loan interest non-deductible, will significantly raise the tax liability for graduate students.

Graduate students don’t earn much money. Last year, The Sunflower reported on graduate teaching assistants in the English department who felt they were overworked and underpaid.

Assistants are paid with the expectation that they’ll work 20 hours per week to handle teaching, responding to student emails, grading, and lesson-planning — overworking the 20-hour expectation is almost a guarantee — and finding outside work that accommodates your schedule is nearly impossible.

An English assistant told The Sunflower last year that her diet consisted of not much more than Ramen noodles. “It’s not a joke — it’s for real,” she said.

This complex scenario has resulted in some students turning to government assistance and taking out student loans.

Should the provision be reconciled and approved by the Senate, graduate assistants in communication, like me, will see their taxable income leap from roughly $8,500 to $13,500 or more. Nonresident graduate assistants — paid the minimum — would see their taxable income skyrocket even more, from roughly $8,500 to more than $21,000.

Nonresident graduate assistants — paid the minimum — would see their taxable income skyrocket even more, from roughly $8,500 to more than $21,000”

This provision would make meeting living expenses nearly impossible.

International students are a high priority for the university, and, should the reform pass through the Senate, it would damage the attractiveness of U.S. universities to prospective international graduate students.

This year, the university enrolled 532 graduate international students. They make up almost 20 percent of the 2,683-person graduate student population. Not all of these students are teaching or research assistants.

Universities are warning that the tax bill, if approved, would force them to cut down on the number of graduate students they admit, and competitiveness in both higher education and the job market would take a hit.

There’s no perfect tax proposal that fits the economy. Plain and simple, not everyone will come out a winner in this proposal — some are going to take a hit. It shouldn’t be graduate students.