Scientists Press Senate to Preserve Higher Education Tax Provisions

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The Senate presses ahead on its version of a tax overhaul measure in an effort to complete action before years end. | Ron Cogswell/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Scientific and engineering societies representing scores of scientists, mathematicians and engineers are urging the Senate to resist provisions included in the House-passed tax bill that would render graduate education less affordable.

The organizations called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Charles Schumer to ensure that the Senate retains tax policies designed to ease the financial burden of graduate school education.

“Repealing the very provisions that allow graduate students to continue to study in critical STEM fields means that we will be shutting the door on new opportunities for discovery, exploration and innovation,” said the letter to Senate leaders.

In particular, the letter highlights the need to protect the existing tax status of tuition reductions extended to graduate students in exchange for teaching courses or conducting research, and to preserve the tax status of employer provided education assistance.

The House bill, which passed on Nov. 16, would consider the tuition reductions as taxable income triggering substantial tax increases for many graduate students, and would eliminate employer tax deductions for providing educational help to workers.

The qualified tuition reduction tax provision also helps support scientific research at the nation’s major universities. Education Department data show that 57% of graduate students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics benefited from the tuition reduction tax benefit, according to the American Council on Education.

If repealed “these provisions will have an outsized impact in the sciences,” said the multi-society letter.

Senate Republican leaders worked throughout Tuesday to placate concerns of senators in an effort to secure the votes needed for Senate passage. The Senate is expected to vote on the full measure late Thursday or early Friday, though few dismiss the possibility of the vote being held next week.

[Associated image: Penn State/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)]