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Passing of House tax bill may impact students, faculty on campus

With the passing of a new House tax bill Nov. 16, students and faculty on the Oklahoma Christian University campus face questions of the impact it may have on their lives, both now and in the future.

College students, in particular, would be impacted by the bill, according to the New York Times, as it taxes the value of college tuition benefits bestowed on thousands of university employees, as well as causes student loan interest to no longer be tax deductible. Currently, only the student loan interest stipend is taxable, but the bill would make the tuition a taxable benefit as well. Graduate students would also have to pay taxes on the value of tuition.

While, according to USA Today, the “winners” in the tax bill would include heirs and heiresses, corporations, retirement savers, retailers, shareholders and low- and moderate-income taxpayers with children and no deductions, the “losers” impacted by the passing of the bill would be the sick, disaster or fire victims, vacation communities, residents of high-tax regions, college students and future generations.

For senior Veronica Cassel, the decision to attend Oklahoma Christian was made largely in part because her father worked for the school so she was able to attend free of charge, aside from housing and books.

“I do not think it is fair because that was my parents’ way of saving for college; my dad staying at OC and working there long enough to get the tuition reduction,” Veronica said. “Teachers already get paid way too low for the amount of work they do, so they should not also get taxed for a benefit of them teaching. The state already has a shortage of teachers, so why make it so fewer people will want to teach by taking away such a great benefit?”

When he heard about the passing of the House tax bill, Veronica’s father, Mechanical Engineering Professor David Cassel, said he knew he would be one of the faculty affected by the decision, specifically because the Oklahoma Christian tuition reduction increases with each year a faculty or staff members work for the university.

“I think it’s sad, because that is why some professors stay at OC,” David said. “Despite the low salaries, the tuition waiver makes it affordable to stay here.”

Although a number of op-ed writers and various news outlets claim the bill will “bankrupt graduate students,” “be a disaster for Ph.D. students” and “hit grad students with a massive tax hike,” Preston Cooper of Forbes said the bill may “alter the current model of graduate education,” but it will not destroy it. He said the main difference between scholarships and qualified tuition waivers is that “universities can require students to work as a condition of receiving the latter, but not the former.”

“Anxiety among graduate students and those considering graduate education is understandable,” Cooper said Nov. 20. “But what the narrative around this provision has missed is that the House bill does not touch another provision of the tax code: section 117(a). This section provides that scholarships used to pay tuition and fees are not considered taxable income. The catch is that universities, which provide these scholarships, cannot stipulate that the students work as teaching or research assistants as a condition of receiving them.”

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