Impacts of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on Graduate Students

Across the country, graduate students are realizing the impact that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), if enacted, will have on us. In particular, the removal of an exemption for qualified tuition expenses means that for many students, our taxable income will be nearly twice what actually reaches our pockets. A UC Berkeley graduate student, Vetri Velan, wrote a short document that summarizes the impacts:

How Does the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” Affect Ph.D. Students?

In addition, we’ve put together an interactive google sheet, where graduate students can see the impact the plan will have on their individual tax burden:

Calculate Federal Income Tax Change for Graduate Students

An unfortunate result of tax impacts like these may be a decreased number of graduate students in the United States. Innovation, economic growth, research outcomes – they all depend on graduate students.

Tax impacts such as these will cost the United States in students. If students shoulder this tax burden, then fewer students (especially lower income students) will be able to afford graduate school in the sciences, humanities, and arts. If schools shoulder the burden, as some have suggested, the likely outcome is fewer students accepted into graduate programs. Either way, America ends up with fewer trained experts in fields from physics to political science and studio art to sociology.

Some students will benefit from the TCJA if passed, in particular students on federally funded fellowships. Students with these fellowships, which are awarded for academic merit, do not currently fall under the exemption being removed, so their tax burden may actually decrease under TCJA. For international students (and out-of-state students at state institutions like the University of California), the impacts of the TCJA are hard to quantify. Not enough information has been gleaned from the available information to know what types of tuition payments qualify as taxable income.

We need more information.

Call or email your Congressperson or Senator and ask: What are the impacts of this tax bill on me? Let them know that you don’t support a tax bill that will cause the standard of living for graduate students across the country to be negatively affected. Tell them that you want to keep the qualified tuition exemption.

Ready to contact your representatives? SAGE has put together an useful set of resources here, including sample phone scripts and emails:

Graduate Students & The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”: What You Need to Know

March 2017 – Federal Funding Matters

In mid-March 2017, the Trump Administration released its proposed budget for FY 2018, which includes significant cuts to many agencies that fund graduate student research in STEM fields. As students and supporters of university science research, we see a need to Stand with Science to ensure lawmakers understand why federal funding of science research matters.

The Action

Contact your representatives – both in the House and Senate – and express your desire to preserve federal funding for university research. Inform them of the impact federal funding has had on you and your research, and why it is important. Use the prompts below, or just share your personal story.

Get in Touch

The most effective means of communication with your representatives is in person. You can request to schedule a meeting with your Senator or House Member via their website, or with anyone working on the Hill.

If you can’t make it to DC, phone calls and emails are great too. Phone calls are personal, immediate, and give you a chance to talk directly with your Congressperson’s staff. Emails are instantaneous, easy to count, and easy to respond to. If sent through a Senator or Representative’s website, emails are automatically sorted to the issue experts within a Congressional office. Best of all, emails can be personal way to get in touch.

Not sure who you should be in contact with? Find your Senators and Representative. Get in touch with those who represent the district/state where you’re registered to vote instead of (or in addition to) where you attend university. If you’re not registered to vote, you can do that here. And if you’re ineligible to vote (an international student, for example) you still count! All constituents – everyone who lives in a district – have a powerful voice.

What To Say

Don’t forget the ask

A beautifully worded email is, unfortunately, worthless if it doesn’t include a request. Want to maintain funding levels for NSF across the board? Say so. Want to preserve funding for a specific program? Tell them that.

Be specific. Saying please support federal funding of science is good, saying I support maintaining or increasing the appropriation levels from FY17 to FY18 for the NSF and NIH, as well as the NASA, DOE, DOD and other university research programs is better.

Be brief. A three paragraph email is more likely to be read than a three page email.

Explain why it matters to you

State where your research funding comes from. Explain why that funding is crucial. (Does it underwrite your tuition? Your research materials? Your rent through your stipend?)

Tell them why your research is important. Something got you excited about that field; share that passion.

Explain why it should matter to them

Does your research save lives? Can your research create jobs? Will it reinvigorate an economic sector, or increase US competitiveness in the global market?

This could include facts – about the impact university R&D has on the overall economy, about the positive effects of this research in their district, or about the historical importance of federal funding for science, scientists, and research.

If you’re a voter in their District/State, make sure to mention it here! Members are more heavily influenced by the people they represent.

Still unsure what to say? Try these prompts…

  • I am a graduate student researching …
  • I am emailing to request that you support federal funding for science by maintaining or increasing the appropriations level from FY17 to FY18. / Please advocate for continued research funding at the graduate level from [Agency]. 
  • My research is funded in part (or entirely) by …
  • Without this funding, I would not be able to …
  • My research has impacts across the country. It provides …

Why This? Why Now?

The federal appropriations process is a long one, and the President’s budget is only step one. Nonetheless, advocating for science and research funding can never happen too soon. It is important to make sure your members know why funding science is crucial now, especially those with appropriations responsibilities. Science needs our support at every step of the budget process.

This campaign echoes the very first campaign Stand with Science created, and that’s intentional. We exist to advocate on behalf of science and scientists, and there is no better way to do that than to show our support for the funding that underlies everything student scientists and researchers can accomplish. As we move forward, other actions will come to light, but supporting our funding sources will always be one of them.

Coming Up Next…

Stand with Science is a part of the National Science Policy Group, members of which will be on the Hill advocating for science and scientists in early April. We want to make sure we can accurately express how many students support these funding requests and where they are from. Please fill out this form to get involved in advocating for science even if you haven’t yet written to your Senators or Representatives.

January 2013: Letter to the Editor

How To Guide: Meeting With Your Administration

Setting Up the Meeting

You are about to take the message of the need for science and research funding from the student to the administration of your university. Congratulations! This guide will provide the basics of how to set up the meeting, what you can ask in the meeting, and how to properly follow up after the meeting,

To set up a meeting you should first decide the most appropriate person with which to actually meet. Does your University have a Vice President for Research? How about a Senior Research Officer? If not, a President or Provost is helpful along with a Dean of Graduate Students. Find their email address or the email address of their administrative assistant online and send a brief email asking for a short meeting to discuss student issues relating to sequestration and federal science and research funding support.

At the Meeting

Okay, so the meeting is all set up and you are ready to bring the student voice to the administration. What kind of questions should you ask?

Here are some ideas we have:

  • On our campus, what percent of the research budgets are federally funded?
  • How many postdocs and or graduate students on our campus are funded by federal research grants?
  • For every $1 invested in scientific research, nearly $2.50 are created in new economic activity. On our campus, what spin off products or companies have been successful?
  • How many major prizes such as Nobel Prizes or others which are awarded for a lifetime of research training and experience have been largely funded by the federal budget?
  • What is our institution doing to counteract or advocate against sequester cuts, and what more can we do?

Be creative and feel free to ask the questions which you find important.

After the Meeting

You made it! Now please remember to send a short thank you email to the individual with which you met. If you’d like to send a personal thank you card that is also a nice touch.

We will be collecting the stories of the experiences and the meetings of our members across the country so send us the following information at We look forward to hearing from you!

  1. Your name
  2. The name and title of the individual who you met.
  3. A brief two to three sentences on how the meeting went.
  4. Any other information or pictures you’d like to include.

Thank you for your work. There are over 10,000 voices joining you on this project and together we’ll make the student voice in the federal science and engineering budget support conversation heard.