Current and prospective grad students fearful of proposed tax bill

Tuesday, November 21, 2017 - 3:59pm

When Rackham student Surojit Sural, Ph.D. candidate in molecular and integrative physiology, was deciding on leaving his home country of India for Japanese or American doctorate programs, he chose the University of Michigan for what he said was its prestige, location and financial support. His peers were accepted to high-ranking European universities, but also chose American schools due to their financial aid benefits.

However, under the Republican tax plan which recently passed the House, two of three student tax credits would be eliminated and tuition waivers Ph.D. candidates earn through teaching and research would become taxed. Supporters of the propsal argue the tax cuts will be beneficial for businesses, the middle class and economic growth, as tax cuts have been a major issue for the Republican party in recent weeks. 

While Sural plans to graduate in the summer of 2018 and will not be affected if the bill goes through, he acknowledged how deal-breaking this would have been for him had the bill passed earlier.

“If I was in the fourth or third year of the program, I would have probably dropped out,” Sural said.

He also noted concern over how the bill would affect current and prospective graduate students, specifically with international students due to visa laws and work restrictions. He said he has a friend from India who only applied to American schools.

“She now thinks that if this bill becomes (a) law, it would become financially impossible for her to come or to continue her Ph.D. here in the U.S.,” Sural said.

American students also share anxiety over the proposed law. University alum Jonté Jones has put his Ph.D. pursuit on hold, partially due to the reform.

“It’s not just grad students it affects, it affects people who are lower income,” Jones said. “It affects people who are even middle income and can’t afford a lot of things. It only seems to benefit the super wealthy ... it just seems like an all around bad idea.”

University alum Alex Fox fears she will not be able to consider graduate school at all if the bill passes. She said she already has student debt from earning her undergraduate degree, and said she did not earn enough income doing laboratory work for the University and hosting at a restaurant to have the opportunity to further her education. She now works at the restaurant full time while finding a new job related to her field of study.

“I still have been considering my Ph.D., and if this passes, there’s no way I’m gonna do a Ph.D.,” Fox said. “It’s definitely not going to happen. There’s no way I would be able to afford it...it’s a bummer to know that that is something I would not be able to consider at all.”

In an interview for a previous article by The Daily, Public Policy professor Stephanie Leiser noted the bill would increase the national debt and would burden future generations.

“The biggest downside of (the bill) is that it’s going to increase the deficit,” Leiser said. “They’re either going to increase debt or cut programs. Increased debt is nothing more than future taxes on our kids or grandkids, etc. Or cutting programs is obviously going to impact people who benefit from those programs right now.”

Advocates for the proposal argue the decreased costs to businesses will promote job growth, but some students are not convinced.

Rackham student Carrie Johnson, Ph.D. candidate in chemical biology, said the tax plan has implications far beyond the graduate level.

“It’s not good for big pharm to have less grad students, because that means less patients,” Johnson said.