Late Friday night, the Senate approved a bill titled the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. This act sets the federal government on a dangerous path. As this bill moves to committee, aspects may be lost or changed, but if some provisions remain, this bill will ultimately harm universities, graduate students, and the Wyoming economy as a whole.
The version of the bill passed by the House will tax graduate student tuition, which is currently waived by the university, as if it were income. If these increases remain in the final version of the bill, taxes for in-state graduate students at the University of Wyoming would increase by approximately 360% and taxes for out-of-state graduate students would increase by over 1,000%, even though the amount that graduate students bring home would not increase. This will make graduate school too expensive for most students.
Many people picture graduate students sitting alone late at night in a lab or an office, doing abstract, theoretical work. However, in reality, graduate students like us balance research with teaching and outreach. As teaching assistants, we enhance education by creating more one-on-one opportunities for undergraduate students. Additionally, we develop technologies that create jobs and spur economic development. For example, one of the authors of this piece is a PhD student in engineering who develops new ways to use coal and Wyoming’s other natural resources for energy production. Such research has direct impacts on Wyoming’s economy.
Community leaders across the state have received advanced degrees from the University of Wyoming. The proposed tax on tuition waivers would result in decreased development, research, and leadership; many graduate students would not be able to afford advanced degrees, and Wyoming would suffer for it. We live in a democracy where public participation in government is effective and encouraged. A great way to engage with this issue is to call your representatives. If you care about the future of Wyoming industries, oppose this tax plan and advocate for the men and women on the leading edge of innovation.