UPDATE: Due to outcry from graduate workers and university lobbyists alike, the final version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that was passed by both chambers of Congress and signed by the president allowed us to keep our tuition waivers, ensuring that we would not have to endure an unfair federal income tax burden. This page has been archived for posterity as a reminder of the power we graduate workers have when we organize and mobilize!


As Republicans in the House and Senate are preparing their tax plan proposals, they are balancing tax cuts for the 1% by attacking public education. Inside Higher Ed covers many of the direct effects for grad students and those taking more than five years to gradaute:

Students—especially older, part-time and graduate students—would also see negative consequences from provisions of the Republican proposal, higher ed advocates said. The bill restructures the American Opportunity Tax Credit, eliminating tax benefits for students who take more than five years to graduate, as well as part-time and graduate students. And it repeals the Lifetime Learning Credit, which is used by grad students, workers who need retraining and part-time students and nontraditional undergrads who take more than four years to graduate.

The proposal would also eliminate a provision of the tax code used by many universities to waive the cost of tuition for graduate students filling positions like teaching assistantships. If the proposal were to go through, those institutions wouldn’t be able to waive tuition costs without imposing new taxable income on grad students, said Steven Bloom, director of government relations at the American Council on Education.

Our tuition waivers are being targeted.

The attack is not limited to higher education. Within K-12 education, these tax plans would eliminate a deduction that public school teachers can use for their out of pocket expenses for their classrooms. These plans also make stark cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

These plans give a majority of tax cuts to wealthy corporations and the richest 1% of taxpayers.

If you would like more information about the House and Senate plans, you can read:

BUT YOU CAN HELP! There is still time to push our representatives to improve our tax policies. Please take one (or more) of these steps:

  1. Send a digital letter to your federal representatives about the changes impacting grad students. This petition suggests language for you to use, but you can change the text based on what matters most to you. [Time estimate: 3 minutes]
  2. Call these representatives. See below for the phone numbers and a potential script. [Time estimate: 3 minutes each]

Names and numbers:

Senate: Ron Johnson R-WI — 202-224-5323
Senate: Tammy Baldwin D-WI — 202-224-5636
House: Mark Pocan D-WI-02 — 202-225-2906

Potential script:

Hello, my name is (your name) I am a (graduate/prof./Ph.D./etc.) student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and I am calling today to speak to (member of Congress’s name) about the effects of the proposed tax reform bill – Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and its impact on my higher education.

(The staffer will likely say that they can pass on your message.)

Currently, Section 117 (d) of the Tax Code allows tax-free tuition of individuals employed as graduate-level teaching and research assistants. The proposed tax policy repeals these provisions thereby eliminating tax free treatment of tuition remissions.

My graduate student salary is (your salary here). With tuition waivers labeled as taxable income for graduate students, the majority of my salary will be spent on paying taxes, threatening my ability to survive graduate school on my income.

I strongly urge (member of Congress’s name) to vote against the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

(Again, the staffer will likely say that they can pass on your message. They may ask for your name and zipcode)

Yes, please do, and please take down my contact information so you can let me know how the Senator votes in the end. I’ll be watching this vote closely. Thank you for your time.

You can also help guide the TAA’s plan for political action around issues at the federal, state, and local level by working with our Political Education Committee. TAA members are invited to attend PEC Meetings to learn more about how they can push for positive change in our various communities. Please contact PEC Co-Chair Michael Bellecourt for information about the committee’s next meeting or to answer any questions you have about the current political plans.