Opinion: Everyone Should Care About Graduate Student Tuition Waivers

"Many graduate student employees receive tuition waivers as part of their compensation package. As my fellow University of Illinois Ph.D. student Emily Rodriguez noted, these waivers are like coupons, providing a discount on graduate education in exchange for labor provided at below-market value. Although I was shocked to learn that the new GOP tax plans proposed to tax our waivers, I learned that this is not the first time such measures have been introduced," Mary Grace B. Hebert writes in an opinion article for Inside Higher Ed

"In 1987, because of changes in the 1986 tax bill, graduate employees were unsuspectingly taxed. Luckily, colleges and universities were able to successfully lobby on graduate students’ behalf. This time around, there have been a few stories from Inside Higher Ed and other publications, including even Forbes, that position graduate students as unfortunate victims of a dispassionate Congress. Although the human cost of this regressive reform is important, this is ultimately a condemnation of education.

Like other graduate students, I was devastated when I heard the news about the tax bill. I began tweeting and talking to colleagues so that we could start organizing a response. Unfortunately, I heard skepticism from people that anyone outside academe should care about graduate student tuition waivers. Such skepticism is misguided and relies on the notion that universities are disconnected from or do not serve the public. It improperly values universities and both graduate and undergraduate education.

Land-grant universities, created in 1862 by the Morrill Act, serve the public by providing the education necessary for creating an informed citizenry and propelling economic growth. Despite the importance of higher education, universities have been hit by significant budget cuts. According to a study in Minnesota, such cuts do not save money in the long run. Researchers found that reducing subsidies for higher education would result in fewer completed degrees and lower wages for workers, as well as fewer benefits from research. The value of the individual and societal benefits of universities was estimated to be much more than the cost of subsidies. Likewise, the meager gains from taxing 145,000 tuition waivers would not outweigh the cost to our democracy and economy.

Treating graduate students like disconnected eggheads is a dismissal of the skills obtained in graduate school and of the benefits all Americans gain from a more educated society. Graduate employees perform a variety of types of work on campuses. They teach classes, in either stand-alone sections or by assisting professors; they grade papers and exams; they hold office hours; they engage in their own research and research with colleagues; they hold administrative positions; they train for their professional careers. Although this work is often thought of as necessary training for future professors, not all graduate students become faculty members."

NASFAA's "Headlines" section highlights media coverage of financial aid to help members stay up to date with the latest news. Inclusion in Today's News does not imply endorsement of the material or guarantee the accuracy of information presented.

 

Publication Date: 11/17/2017


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