We are current Ph.D. students at the University of Georgia and Wake Forest University, and alumni from UNC Chapel Hill and Wake Forest, respectively. Our education in North Carolina has shaped us into top-notch scientists in our respective fields. The Republican tax plan is poised to destroy this opportunity for future students.
If this tax plan becomes law, the U.S. House and Senate will initiate a brain drain of the best and brightest from the United States.The financial burden on graduate students at North Carolina’s 52 universities will be increased by up to 200 percent, putting higher education out of reach to all but our nation’s wealthiest.
The graduate tuition tax is a fatal double-whammy: it also would wipe out an entire generation of innovators and break the connection between K-12 educators and scientists.
One of us, Maite, studies corals and the microorganisms that live on them. Fisheries provide jobs for about 60,000 North Carolinians, and without healthy corals, we would not have coral reef ecosystems that sustain the fish that these jobs depend on. Protecting coral reefs also directly supports many local coastal communities.
Cassie studies landslides in Peruvian montane forests. Although Peru seems awfully far away from North Carolina, our fate is tied to the health of these forests. Understanding how these forests respond to natural disturbances like landslides will allow us to make predictions about how they will respond to climate change.
Traditionally our universities pay or waive tuition fees as recognition for our substantial research and teaching contributions to the school. We are also paid a small stipend to cover living costs. In practical terms, the tax plan’s tax on tuition waivers means that a graduate student who receives a $23,000 yearly stipend (already taxable income) and $36,000 tuition waiver (money that never passes through our bank accounts) will be taxed as if he or she makes $59,000 in income. Many of us are already living on razor-thin financial margins as it is, and if this provision makes it into the final bill, we simply will not be able to afford to finish our graduate degrees.
For me, Cassie – my stipend at Wake Forest is enough to live on, but not enough that I can afford even an extra $200 in expenses every month, let alone the $9,000 tax bill that I will incur under this plan. I see no workable solutions: graduate students already work 24/7 as it is, so finding a side job isn’t an option, and neither is taking out more student loans. And I’m far from the only one in this position.
I, Maite, worry about how the graduate tuition tax will affect N.C. K-12 students. Dozens of STEM graduate students from UNC, N.C. State, Duke and East Carolina University voluntarily fuel science communication efforts in our state through the Scientific Research & Education Network (SciREN). At SciREN events, scientists transform their own research into ready to go, K-12 lesson plans that directly fulfill NC curriculum standards. North Carolina has been a leader in science outreach, and the graduate tuition tax will erase that progress, taking learning opportunities away from our K-12 students.
We know that our universities are fighting hard to keep higher education attainable, but they cannot do it without your help. We implore you to call Senator Richard Burr, Senator Thom Tillis and your representatives to voice your support for graduate student education. Our futures depend on it.