Given today’s economy and job market, not getting a college degree isn’t an option for those who wish to earn a living wage. It is simply not feasible to cover daily expenses, support a family and plan for retirement with only $35,000 a year, which was the median income of high school graduates in 2014. However, this is often unattainable for most as the cost of higher education increases beyond the rate of inflation each year. Between 2004 and 2015, the cost of private nonprofit institutions — which includes tuition, fees, room, and board — increased by 26 percent after being adjusted for inflation. During that same time, accordingly, the student loan balances of those under the age of thirty more than doubled, from $140 billion to $376.3 billion. Today, 53 percent of these young adults with college degrees are burdened with student loan debt that can sometimes reach $100,000 or above. With such staggering costs and little financial support, higher education, the quintessential opportunity structure, is increasingly less accessible to those who would personally benefit from it. Take Tufts University, for example, which has more students from the top 1 percent than from the bottom 60 percent.
While access to higher education and a living wage is a moral issue, it also has economic consequences. Not only does the individual benefit from greater education, but the whole of society benefits as well. The innovation that drives the economy can only reach its full potential if every individual is given the opportunity to cultivate their talents. Investing in education is investing in the future, and the government and institutions should work collectively to solve the financial crisis that prospective students, current students and graduates face.
Unfortunately, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) passed by 227 House Republicans on Nov. 16 sends a message to all Americans that accessible higher education is not a priority. Right now, low and middle-class Americans that have student loans can lower their taxable income by $2,500, allowing a maximum deduction of $625, though most deduct less. Just at Tufts University, undergraduate and graduate students from the 2016–2017 school year held more than 114.5 million dollars in student loans that could make them eligible for this deduction.
While this deduction may not address the underlying issues of making higher education accessible, it is still an important economic relief claimed by more than 12 million Americans, including Jumbos, and the program’s effectiveness would be cut by the House bill.
The House bill will also place significant economic stress on graduate students by consequentially increasing their income tax by 300 to 400 percent. At Tufts, according to University President Anthony Monaco, graduate students who work as teaching and research assistants would see their income tax increase by as much as $10,000 a year, because the bill seeks to make graduate students’ tuition waivers count as taxable income.
While there are many factors that contribute to the increasing educational and economic divide, this bill presented by House Republicans will greatly exacerbate the problem. Tufts University has now begun to lobby Congress on the tax bill with the American Council on Education and National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Action, however, must also be taken by all students — prospective, current and former — not only to stand together against these provisions in the House bill, but also to find real solutions that don’t damage those who are seeking to strengthen our economy and further their educations.