For the past week, Kendra Dickinson has spent part of her morning contacting her elected officials — from Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown to congresswoman Joyce Beatty and President Donald Trump — to voice her opposition to congressional Republicans’ proposed tax bill.
In particular, Dickinson, a second-year doctoral candidate in Hispanic linguistics, takes issue with a provision that would reclassify tuition waivers graduate students currently receive as income instead.
About five hours after Dickinson sent her messages Monday morning, she joined hundreds of people — mostly graduate students, professors and undergraduates — gathering on The Oval, and then later walking to the Ohio Union, to further protest the bill.
“If I had known that it would be this way I probably wouldn’t have even started graduate school,” Dickinson said. “This is not what we signed up for. Had [this provision] been in place, that would’ve absolutely, 100 percent been a deterrent.
Specifically, the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” would count stipends or covered tuition graduate students and doctoral candidates often receive from universities for teaching or conducting research during their tenure as taxable income. Currently, the government only taxes a student’s stipend, not their waived tuition.
The average salary for a graduate research assistant is less than $30,000, according to a Vox article.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, about 55 percent of all graduate students had adjusted gross incomes of $20,000 or less and nearly 87 percent reported incomes of $50,000 or less.
In Dickinson’s case, she said she makes a little less than $17,000 per year with her research and teaching stipend while she receives a tuition waiver of about $33,000. If the bill passed, she said instead of falling into the 14 percent tax bracket, her new “income” of about 50,000 would be taxed at about 20 percent.
I think it’s abhorrent that the same tax plan would decrease taxes on the rich and the corporations to the detriment of graduate students who are individual human beings making a basic living for taking classes, teaching classes that no other instructor wants to teach and that we’re expected to do research and be productive scholars with a minimal salary. – Kendra Dickinson, a second-year doctoral candidate in Hispanic linguistics.
If passed, the bill could cost students — on average — up to an additional $2,000 each year, according to the Vox article.
At Ohio State there are 10,708 master’s students and 3,219 postbaccalaureate professional students across all campuses. More than 4,300 students receive nontaxable tuition waivers currently, according to a letter released Monday by University President Michael Drake.
For in-state students, graduate and professional school costs $31,093 each year; for out-of-state students, it costs $52,561.
In the letter, Drake urged Congress to reconsider the bill’s provisions specifically affecting students.
“As you continue to work on H.R. 1, the ‘Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,’ I wanted to express concern over provisions that will have negative consequences for students, families and Ohioans who rely on research universities for undergraduate and graduate education …”
“Without this provision in place, these students will be subject to a major tax increase, making it difficult for universities to recruit them and thus hindering our research and innovation mission.”
Noah Charles has been interested in physics since he got his first Isaac Newton book when he was 10 years old. He is one of the many students at Ohio State who would be affected by the tax increase.
To Charles, a fourth-year graduate student in physics, becoming a physicist is “all that I ever thought that I was going to do.”
Now, a teacher and researcher at the university, he worries his full potential in academia won’t be met should the bill pass because he would no longer be able to afford his schooling. The House is expected to vote for the bill Thursday while the final version of the Senate’s bill is still underway.
“I think that graduate student education would change forever if this bill passes,” he said. “I will personally be devastated because I will have to leave [Ohio State]. I don’t want to do that. I love the research that I do and really like the teaching that I do.”
He said the cost of school would be too much for him to continue his research, which would be detrimental in his post-graduation job hunt.
“I afford grad school right now in the way that many of us do — by pinching pennies,” he said. “If I graduate too early it would significantly hamper my job prospects in the years to come. I still have things I want to do while I’m here.”
He said the bill’s creation implies the GOP does not think graduate students are important, “and funding tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy is much more important.”
Dickinson added: “I think it’s abhorrent that the same tax plan would decrease taxes on the rich and the corporations to the detriment of graduate students who are individual human beings making a basic living for taking classes, teaching classes that no other instructor wants to teach and that we’re expected to do research and be productive scholars with a minimal salary.”
When the nearly 90-minute protest ended at the Union, with chants of “Money for jobs and education, not war and deportation” ringing, the crowd started to disperse. Some lingered to ask about additional action they could take, and, like Sarah Little, some signed petitions.
Then, they had to get back to work. For Little, a second-year doctoral candidate in Hispanic linguistics, that meant studying for an exam in her introduction to audiology class; grading papers for the Spanish 1102 course she teaches; preparing for the oral exams she is administering Tuesday; and, if she has time, continue analyzing data for a final research project.
Matt Dorsey contributed to this article.