The War on Education: Taxing Tuition Waivers

Candice eetimesThere has long been a divide in our nation between those who respect higher education and those who are either suspicious or just plain hostile to it.  One could hear the disdain in the refrain of enlisted men in the WWII and even before from working class men calling educated men “college boy” in same vein as could be heard on grammar school yards with, “momma’s boy”.  This was a disdain and an attitude that education was effete and even ‘effeminate’, comparing educated men to women and homosexuals.

Lately, college and university educated people, especially those with post-graduate degrees (the new “college boys”) are being smeared with the epithet of being “elitist”, a reference to class antipathies and anxieties, as well as “liberal”, a reference to our national divisions into tribalist groups.  Let me be clear, I strongly believe that it is those who label OTHERS as “liberal” / “libtard” / “elites”, etc. who are the ones walling themselves into a “bubble”, not the other way around.  This issue is one-sided… and for the simple reason that many of those who are thus labeled started out life within that bubble, but escaped it through education and travel to learn of a larger world, an experience which naturally breaks down parochial beliefs and prejudices.

The most recent House version of the GOP sponsored tax revision included the latest salvo on the war against education and educated people.  A provision would impose a tax on tuition waivers, treating them as though they were earned income.  The problem?  These waivers are NOT income per se, they are discounts.

Imagine getting a discounted airline ticket and receiving a tax bill for the difference between “full price” and your discounted price.  Would that seem like that had been earned income?  Seriously?

The concept of earned income is that in theory one can do anything one wants with it; spend it on movie and a dinner, blow it on a weekend at a casino, or invest it mutual funds, or simply sock it away in a savings account.  But how can a discount on goods or services be treated as having been earned income when it can only be recognized by having “spent” on one and only one item.

Let’s do this even more absurdly.  Let’s say that someone is selling an item, a one of kind item, like a house.  The seller has an asking price.  You have an offering price below the asking price which is accepted.  Should you then expect a tax bill for the difference between the original ask and the eventual accepted offer?  Well… that is essentially what this latest tax bill in congress is demanding.  An education is a one of a kind item.  It can’t be resold to someone else like a commodity, it exists only in the experience and memory of the student.

But this attack on education should be no surprise to us.  This is after all only a continuation of the anger, resentment, and even hatred, felt by those who have no education for those who have.  This anger is misplaced in that those without an education are so because of their own peers convincing them that they don’t need it and should hate those who have earned it, a class based self-foreseeing-prophecy as well as an example of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.

To say that if implemented that this will hurt American education and all those industries (including government) that need educated employees and citizens should be obvious to all… but as we have seen in recent events, there are people who would rather tear everything down around them rather than see others outside of their tribe prosper.  We need to include protection for our educational institutions and their future students in our plans to rescue our republic from those who would see it descend into chaos.

Further Reading:

Essay on how to assure access to higher education for all

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