Letter to the US Congress on Proposed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

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Text of the letter:

We are writing as President of the Society for the Study of Evolution (2,674 members), the President of the American Society of Naturalists (1,323 members) and the President of the Society of Systematic Biologists (700 members) to express significant concerns regarding the proposed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. If the deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses is repealed, taxes will greatly increase for many graduate students, such that pursuing a doctoral degree in the United States may no longer be financially feasible.

As you may know, most PhD students in the United States receive a small stipend, which is taxed as income, to cover living expenses while conducting research. Many also receive a tuition waiver in exchange for working as a teaching assistant or research assistant.

If the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is passed, and students’ tuition is taxed, graduate students’ tax burden will increase by roughly 30 to 60 percent for students at public universities, and 200 to 400 percent for students at private universities, where tuition is typically much higher1. This tax burden would be more than a third of a student’s salary at a private university. Such a change would make pursuing a doctoral degree prohibitively expensive for many students.

Graduate students are invaluable players in the field of scientific research. Taxing tuition will prevent many from finishing their work, leaving their programs without a degree. Many more will be prevented from entering into a doctoral program. These changes would decimate advanced education in the United States. If we instead facilitate higher education, not only in biology and STEM but across fields, then we train an innovative, competitive workforce that will maintain this country’s position at the forefront of science and technology.

To ensure the continuation of valuable research by graduate students across the country, please preserve the deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses.


Sally Otto, Society for the Study of Evolution

Kathleen Donohue, American Society of Naturalists

Luke Harmon, Society of Systematic Biologists