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Northeastern officials work to improve tax reform bill

Northeastern is aggressively opposing the specific provisions of two bills that would negatively impact the university community. Photo via iStock.

Two tax bills—one that passed the U.S. House of Representatives last week and one that is set for a vote in the Senate after Thanksgiving—would drastically change the financial landscape for college students and universities if voted and signed into law. Provisions of the House Tax Cuts and Jobs Act threaten to make college less accessible and more expensive, while both bills would make it harder for universities to carry out their missions.

Northeastern is actively opposing specific provisions of the bills that officials believe would add undue burdens to students and families. University leaders have been working directly with elected officials to fight on behalf of students and the higher education community.

“As soon as the House bill was made public, we were on Capitol Hill talking to the Massachusetts congressional delegation, as well as the delegations representing our regional campuses across the country, about the negative consequences of the bill for the Northeastern community,” said Tim Leshan, Northeastern’s vice president for government relations.

Leshan and other Northeastern representatives have held meetings with numerous individual legislators, as well as with staff from the House Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

Northeastern has worked in close partnership with organizations that represent hundreds of colleges and universities to oppose the most detrimental provisions of the proposed tax bills. Those organizations include the American Council on Education, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, among others.

“Northeastern quickly recognized and mobilized to address the threats posed by the tax bill to its students and families, and to all colleges and universities working to make a high-quality education accessible to more students,” said Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, one of the nation’s most respected and visible higher education associations. “Northeastern is playing a vital role as the higher education community works to show lawmakers that they must not approach tax reform in a way that discourages participation in postsecondary education and makes college more expensive for those who do enroll.”

There are several provisions of each bill that would directly impact students and universities. The House Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would:

  • Eliminate student loan interest and tuition payment deductions.
  • Make the value of qualified tuition reductions for employees—including graduate students working as teaching or research assistants, as well as university employees taking advantage of tuition reimbursement programs—taxable as income.
  • Make taxable the value of qualified tuition reductions provided by outside employers. This is similar to the previous change, but impacts and lifelong learners in particular.
  • Burden non-traditional students and lifelong learners by eliminating the Hope Scholarship Credit and the Lifelong Learning Credit. Variations of these programs would be rolled into the American Opportunity Tax Credit in such a way as to make non-traditional students, lifelong learners, and graduate students ineligible for the tax credit.
  • Tax certain university endowments—funds that are often dedicated to student aid and used toward sustaining the financial health of institutions.
  • Double the standard for charitable tax deductions, likely resulting in fewer charitable donations to nonprofit organizations, including colleges and universities.
  • Change the tax structure of income from certain research, likely discouraging important research being conducted across the country.

Unlike its counterpart in the House, the Senate Tax Cuts and Jobs Act does not include many of the provisions that impact individual students. It still, however, stands to negatively impact colleges and universities.

The Senate Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would:

  • Tax certain university endowments—funds that are often dedicated to student aid and used toward sustaining the financial health of institutions.
  • Double the standard for charitable tax deductions, likely resulting in fewer charitable donations to nonprofit organizations, including colleges and universities.
  • Change the tax structure of income from certain research, likely discouraging important research being conducted across the country.

“As the process moves forward, we’ll continue to engage with our elected officials and leverage our strong relationships in D.C. so that they do everything possible to ensure the final tax bill protects the interests of the Northeastern community,” Leshan said.