Tax Bill to Further Exacerbate Issue of Affordable Schooling

By David Graber

The greatest engine of social mobility is losing steam

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Having passed through both chambers of congress with great contention, the GOP tax bill should be signed into existence by Christmas. Promising tax cuts across the board, the legislation will bleed into every arena of American life, with the greatest gains going to the financial sector and corporations. To account for the egregious deficit created when fiscal benefits are disproportionately conferred to corporations and the elite, the bookkeepers of the House resolved to strip basic support programs in education. While the Senate and House versions are in the process of reconciliation, we do not know what exact cuts will result. The three most jarring potential slashes are:

1. Establishing an excise tax on the endowments of many private universities, directly extracting from the coffers that supply crucial aid to lower income students.

2. Treating as taxable income the tuition waiver received by grad students for working or researching in universities, thereby making masters degrees economically impossible for those not already independently wealthy.

3. Abolishing student loan interest tax deductions.

There has never been a bill so belligerently inconsiderate of the future of American higher education.

Offering the same farcical logic expounded by Reagan and his neoliberal acolytes of growth-through-corporate-favoritism, the 2017 tax scam achieves little outside of furthering the interests of the wealthy through the deliberate erosion of opportunity for middle and lower class Americans. If Tulane does not take action, we will lose a significant portion of those already struggling to afford their education.

Knowledge of these cuts begs the question: does Tulane, or for that matter do any “top schools”-- those institutions usually associated with large endowments, wealthy students, etc.-- care about the loss they will soon sustain? And if so, what actions could be taken to ameliorate these new standards of affordability?

Some fun, relevant numbers: 69% of Tulane’s student body hails from the top 20% of the nation’s income distribution, with 13% of that from “the 1%,” while only 3.9% are from families of the bottom quintile. This brings the median family income of a student at Tulane to $180,700.

It’s disconcerting that the voices of those most affected by the legislation, those who will see their prospects of education suffer most, will be made inaudible by the chorus of Tulane’s wealthy majority.

Will Tulane take the offensive, providing for the aid lost, and in doing so potentially sacrifice the state of its endowment, facilities, and superfluous services? This will be a difficult decision for the school, one which could be a detriment to its position in coveted footholds of the college ranking sites. If the time comes, Tulane will have to evaluate what it really cares about-- economic diversity and affordability for all levels of income, or a cushy, isolated respite for the children of the tax cut beneficiaries.

CurrentLara Miloslavsky