As someone who grew up in Lumberton, I was always told to go off to pursue my education, which I am currently doing. I have been fortunate that my journey has taken me to the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, where I received a master’s degree, and Old Dominion University, where I am pursuing my doctorate degree in criminology and criminal justice to become a university professor.
I would be unable to afford my education if I were not given tuition waivers by my university. Approximately 145,000 graduate students and 27,000 undergraduate students benefit from tuition waivers, given in exchange for teaching and research. In addition to these tuition waivers, universities provide these students stipends to pay for housing, books, and other living needs. However, 55 percent of graduate students make $20,000 or less before taxes, requiring students to take out large student loans. I am one of those 55 percent, as ODU provides me a stipend of $15,000, nowhere near enough to cover the cost of living in Norfolk. Forced to take out the maximum amount of student loans, I am already in debt by more than $100,000, and it will continue to grow as I need student loans to graduate in May 2019.
Had the GOP tax plan currently in the Senate passed prior to my attending graduate school in 2013, I would have never been able to strive to become a college professor. The GOP tax tlan, if passed, will include tuition waivers as taxable income. Instead of paying taxes solely on my stipend, I would have been required to pay taxes on my out-of-state tuition waiver totaling $22,482 per year my first two years at ODU. In total, that raises my taxable income to $37,482, though I only make $15,000 before taxes. This year, with in-state tuition, I would be taxed on an additional $8,928, raising my total taxable income to $23,928. Overall, the bill will decrease the amount of money graduate students make after taxes by almost 1,000 percent.
Moreover, the House GOP Tax Plan eliminates the Lifetime Learning Credit that allows students making less than $65,000 per year to receive a 20 percent tax credit on up to $10,000 of tuition expenses that saves these individuals around $2.6 billion per year. For perspective, 10,000 graduate students would be paying approximately $10,000 more in taxes so that one person could inherit $100 million (the estate tax that benefits the richest .1 percent of people would be eliminated). Moreover, the bill eliminates the tax credit for medical and moving expenses, eliminates tax deductions for valuables lost because of theft, and eliminates tax deductions for teachers that buy supplies for the classroom. The GOP tax bill serves to fill the pockets of the wealthy, while leaving graduate students and marginalized communities like Robeson County footing the bill.
While the grad student tax is one provision of the tax bill that affects me, it would also hurt Robeson County. The bill eliminates the individual mandate for healthcare, resulting in rising health costs for the sick, elderly, and poor, while taking insurance away from 13 million people. While the middle-class will receive an initial tax cut of 1 to 1.7 percent, this cut turns into a tax increase by 2027. Furthermore, it will give an initial 2.5 percent tax cut to the richest 1 percent, and they will continue to receive this tax cut in 2027. Finally, the tax bill will result in an increase of $1.5 trillion to the national debt.
It is important that the Robeson County residents call on Sens. Thom Tillis (202-224-6342) and Richard Burr (202-224-3154) to object to this bill. They need to know the personal stories of those this will affect most in the end. They need to know that the rich do not need tax breaks. I strongly encourage you to call your senators, not just to protest the grad student tax, but also to protest all portions of this bill that hurt people like you.
Brian Pitman is a doctorate candidate in Criminology and Criminal Justice at Old Dominion University. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree from UNCP in 2012 and a master’s degree from UNCW in 2015. He was a resident of Lumberton for 21 years.