By CALLA SLAYTON
Before they break for they break for the holidays, the congressional Republican caucus hope to pass a final version of a tax bill that would personally enrich a number of its members and have drastic consequences for nearly everyone else in America outside of the top one percent.
The original version of the tax plan, passed in November by the House and in early December by the Senate, especially harmed young people attempting to attain higher education.
The bills passed by both chambers included either the taxation of college endowments or made student loans newly taxable income – and while the final version of the plan may bring back certain tax benefits that were initially stripped for students, the GOP’s attempt to limit access to higher education should not be ignored.
Advancing one’s education past high school is already a huge investment of both time and money – and many students, particularly women and people of color, cannot afford to go back to school without taking out student loans that stick with them long after graduation.
This tax bill – written to serve the wealthy at the cost of young people striving for their betterment in the classroom, workplace, and society overall – doesn’t help. The initial House bill would have cut some $71 billion in college and university-related programming.
But while Republicans aim to decimate programs meant to defray the cost of an education, the positive impact of a degree – especially for women – cannot be emphasized enough. Women who go back to school and expand their education beyond high school see dramatic benefits in both their income and future job opportunities.
On average, a two-year degree increases pay by 38 percent and a four-year degree by 78 percent. These differences have profound effects on women’s lives. Research shows that when women are educated, society as a whole is safer, healthier, and more prosperous.
Thankfully, we are today seeing more women than ever – including more women color – attend college. Women now make up 57 percent of college students, representing significant progress in just the last several of decades.
But while more women from a variety of backgrounds are going back to school, many have to take out huge student loans to achieve their educational ambitions. As the costs of books, foods, and housing increase, so has tuition for higher education. All the while, the median household income has remained relatively stagnant.
In 2012, 71 percent of students graduating from four-year colleges had taken out student loans and were struggling with debt. When the data is arranged by gender, we see that women carry a higher burden of student loans, owing nearly two-thirds of the student loan debt.
Those women are caught in a vicious cycle. They already earn less on average than their male counterparts, and therefore need to both take out greater loans to go to school and spend more time paying them off after they graduate.
On average, it takes women two more years to repay their student loans in comparison to their male peers. The situation is even more dire when the data is organized by race within women. Black women not only have the greatest amount of student debt, but also get the smallest economic return on a bachelor’s degree.
Black and Hispanic female college graduates report struggling the most with financial difficulties. So, while more women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds are going back to school, the burden of student loans and repayment is far from equitable.
The benefits of higher education are endless and they should not be a luxury available to only a small percentage of Americans. Qualifying student loans as taxable income further disadvantages women and people of color as they try to get their degrees.
Students, no matter their gender, race, or ethnicity, should not be unfairly burdened with student loans. The Republican tax bill will prevent millions of young people from advancing in their careers, education, and lives.
Now more than ever, we need to take a united stand for educational equity, so everyone can continue to have the opportunity to earn a better-paying job without being impaired by student loan debt.
It’s critical we use our collective voices and votes to resist these obstructions to college education. When higher education is affordable and accessible, we all win.