How the Tax Bills Would Hit Higher Ed

As Republican leaders in the Senate lobbied to secure the votes needed for a drastic overhaul of the U.S. tax system, higher education leaders and student groups have continued to keep the spotlight on provisions in both houses of Congress that would significantly affect -- and, they believe, badly hurt -- institutions and college-goers alike.

Both tax reform plans would for the first time tax the income of college endowments by targeting the largest endowments at private institutions -- a "disastrous precedent for universities and indeed, for all charitable organizations," said Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities, in a statement this week. But the effects of the two bills on students and colleges are wide-ranging.

The House plan, passed earlier this month, strips out many tax benefits that made attending college and graduate programs as well as repaying student loans more affordable. Graduate students at campuses across the country organized walkouts Wednesday to protest a provision of the House plan that would tax graduate tuition benefits as income, a change that higher ed advocates say would render graduate education unattainable for many students. (House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady hinted this week he was open to changing that provision during negotiations over the bill.)

The Senate plan, which has already cleared committee, left out many provisions of the House plan directly affecting student benefits. But it included a proposal that would create new costs for nonprofit entities like universities with business income unrelated to their core education mission. And it would tax income on royalties for licensing a college's name and logo.

A provision that eliminates the ability to deduct any state and local taxes from a taxpayer's federal liability could have even bigger long-term consequences for public higher education by placing a huge strain on state budgets.

It appears increasingly likely that some version of the tax plan will pass the Senate -- possibly as soon as this week. That means many of the details of tax reform legislation, and the discrepancies between the two versions, will be worked out in conference committee.

A comparison of the House and Senate tax reform legislation follows.
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