With the passage of the new Republican tax bill and its myriad consequences for higher education, private universities can no longer insulate themselves from the national political dialogue in the aftermath of the tax code overhaul.
USC’s administration, arguably more so than fellow private universities’ administrations, often delves into the policy arena. In addition to releasing memorandums to students regarding issues such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy and attempted international travel bans by President Donald Trump, as well as participating in annual lobbying trips to Capitol Hill, USC’s President C. L. Max Nikias also has written op-eds in national media outlets and employs local, state and federal relationships departments.
Yet this revamping of the tax code will put the resources and will of the University to the test. Though widely unpopular provisions in the original House version of the GOP tax bill — such as the possible taxing of graduate student tuition waivers and allowing student loan borrowers to deduct up to $2,500 paid toward student loan interest from their taxable income each year — failed to manifest themselves in the final 1,000 pages of tax code text, the finished product still poses a threat to private colleges nationwide.
Colleges must now calculate gains and losses for each activity, likely increasing their tax burden due to compliance costs and fewer opportunities to deduct certain losses. Additionally, a 1.4 percent excise tax on the net investment income on endowments will affect a number of private colleges. And, on top of this, doubling of the standard deduction will likely equate to fewer tax itemizations, and thus, fewer donations to universities, as many Americans deduct charitable giving off their tax returns.
This revision means the pocketbooks of universities around the nation will take a hit when donations that fund scholarships, research and sports programs dry up — and students who rely on these resources will shoulder the burden
Five days before the eventual passage of this landmark legislation, Nikias wrote an opinion piece in The Hill expressing concerns over the bill’s potential effect on the competitiveness of America’s universities. Graduate student organizing efforts across the country, and at USC, culminated in thousands protesting in a highly visible walkout to drop contentious provisions of the bill that would wreak havoc for Ph.D. and master’s students.
And yet, the activism of the national graduate student community has yet to trickle down to undergraduate students. This inaction and apathy among some undergraduates at USC represents a worrying trend, as the threat of taxation spikes on student loan interest seemed to be met with ignorance, silence and disengagement.
Yet, in light of continued legal jeopardy for DACA recipients, the shrinking of personnel and responsibility at the U.S. Department of Education and the resurrection of another iteration of the travel ban, the threats to current and future students remain stark. In response, all students must take a stand, raise their voices and double down on college affordability and the protection of the most marginalized of student populations. There are many ways for students to mobilize and make change. They must call their representatives, facilitate dialogue and awareness among their peers, sign petitions, participate in rallies and involve themselves in the political process and discourse. With rights and financial security at risk, there is no room for apathy on campus.
Despite how campus protests tend to be associated with public schools appealing for more funds, USC must continue its mission toward establishing itself at the forefront of the national political dialogue. The University must resolve to never falter in fighting for legislation that benefits the student body, and emerge as a cardinal and gold standard of a proactive, private research university. Nothing less than the wellbeing of a campus — and a nation — is at stake.