The speed and energy behind tax reform in Congress—specifically the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1)—masks provisions that are extremely harmful to colleges and universities and the students and families hoping to improve their lives through higher education. All leaders in the higher education community, particularly college and university trustees, should contact their congressional representative and oppose this bill.
The House voted to approve H.R. 1 just prior to Thanksgiving—its version of the bill would cost higher education some $110 billion in direct financial benefits over 10 years, including an estimated $65 billion in benefits that students and their families depend on to help finance their education. The Senate version moving this week appears to preserve current tax benefits to students and institutions, but other provisions—specifically the repeal of the state and local tax (SALT) deduction, unfair changes to the tax provisions on college and university business income that no for-profit business would accept, and the disallowance of advance refunding of tax-exempt bonds that significantly reduces construction costs—erode the financial stability of our colleges and universities. Together, both bills could result in significant declines in college enrollment and prevent many low-income and middle-class students from accessing the life-changing benefits that come with a college degree.
In their zeal to fund new cuts in the corporate and personal tax rates, members of Congress have ignored the concerns of higher education stakeholders and missed out on making good policies that would help more people access the benefit of a higher education. Reforming our national tax system and educating our citizenry are critical. Unfortunately, this bill chooses one over the other.
In collaboration with presidents/chancellors and senior leaders, I encourage my fellow trustees to contact their members of Congress—especially in the Senate, where H.R. 1 will be considered this week—to discuss why H.R. 1 cannot be enacted in its current form. If trustees (myself included) do not voice our concerns, we endanger the missions of our colleges and universities, the success of our students, and the future of our nation.