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House GOP tax plan would increase taxes for graduate students by roughly 400 percent

Harvard graduation
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Harvard graduation

The House Republican tax plan includes a $1.5 trillion corporate tax cut and a giant tax hike on graduate students.

Tamar Oostrom, who is currently earning her Ph.D. in economics at MIT, has been crunching the numbers to determine how the current House Republican bill would affect the taxes paid by graduate students.

"This bill would increase our tax by 300 or 400 percent. I think it's absolutely crazy," she tells NPR. "The past week this is what I've been talking about with other graduate students, with classmates. I think we're all shocked."

Grad students like Oostrom often afford advanced degrees by earning a tuition waiver. In these instances, graduate students will work for the university by teaching classes and/or conducting research in exchange for free tuition. According to the American Council on Education, roughly 145,000 graduate students receive this kind of tuition reduction.

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Some programs provide graduate students with a modest stipend for food and housing. For instance, Ryan Hill, a fourth-year Ph.D. student at MIT, receives a $30,000 living stipend and a tuition waiver allowing him to forego paying $50,000 in tuition. He currently pays taxes on his $30,000 stipend, but under the proposed House tax bill, his tuition waiver would also be taxed — meaning he would be taxed as if he was earning $80,000 a year.

"I wish we didn't have to stress about money as much as we already do," Hill tells NPR. "It's been already very hard to just emotionally get through this time of life because we have to be so frugal."

Hill, a former Republican and current Independent, says that he and his wife are saving money by eliminating their dental insurance and sewing clothes for their newborn baby.

Amanda Coston, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon tells Wired reporter Robbie Gonzalez that her taxes would increase by almost 400 percent. Coston conducts research and teaches for the university in exchange for a $32,400 stipend and attends classes thanks to a tuition waiver worth $43,000. Under the proposed tax plan, her taxable income would increase from $32,400 to $76,234.

"It was just such a shock," she tells Gonzalez. "It really changes the calculus on my finances. This suddenly makes a lot of things like rent, car payments, groceries, all that stuff, no longer affordable."

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The Harvard Crimson reports that graduate students at Harvard would also see their taxes increase by 400 percent. "Taxes for Harvard graduate students could increase almost four-fold under a Republican tax plan presented in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month," write Caroline Engelmayer and Phelan Yu.

Samantha Hernandez, legislative director of the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students says that this kind of tax increase would make it financially impossible to earn a Ph.D. in the United States.

"I monitor all legislation at the state and federal levels that could affect graduate and professional students, and this is just — this would have the greatest negative impact of anything I've seen," she explains to Wired. "It would be devastating."

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