Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences Graduate News Physics

SMU Physics Ph.D. Pens Op-ED in Dallas Morning News

Dallas Morning News

Originally Posted: November 23, 2017

This month, the House voted in favor of HR 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. In an attempt to simplify the tax code, many deductions were eliminated in favor of a higher standard deduction for all Americans. One such repeal was Section 117(d)(5).

Why is this so impactful, and why has its repeal caused such an uproar from those in higher education? To understand this question, you must first understand the complicated ways that universities compensate their graduate students.

I’m a Ph.D. student at SMU studying particle physics, and at SMU and other major research institutions in the United States, students from all over the globe compete for a handful of positions in one of our Ph.D. or master’s programs. To earn a spot, they must work hard throughout their undergraduate career and demonstrate the potential for lifelong success in research or industry. As a reward for their diligence, students are granted a seat in class and a position as a teaching or research assistant. The research and teaching roles are compensated with a stipend for cost of living and the remission of tuition in the form of a scholarship. This is where the repeal of this section of the tax code is so significant. The repeal makes the tuition remission, money that students never see, taxable income for graduate students.

At SMU, graduate students make roughly $22,000 a year as a part of their assistantship. The university grants about $45,000 annually in waivers to cover the cost of tuition. Adding this to our taxable income means that instead of paying taxes only on the $22,000 we are actually paid, we would pay taxes on nearly $62,000 under the House plan. The change results in a 700 percent increase in our tax burden, to around $7,850 annually, leaving us with $14,150 a year to live on. My colleagues and I can ill afford a tax increase of this kind, and as a result we will be forced to make the difficult choice of going into debt to make ends meet or leaving our research and work behind. READ MORE