Tax Reform: Chipping Away at Private Colleges and Universities
Executive Director, West Virginia Independent Colleges and Universities
For many years West Virginia’s private colleges and universities have worked hard to keep college costs under control. As a result, private college students typically pay less than 60% of the published price. Campuses have implemented numerous cost controls, sought alternative revenue sources, and cut unproductive programs, all while maintaining high quality academic programs.
All of this has taken place to be responsive to the needs of the students and families we serve. As well, these actions are an answer to the call from public officials to slow the increasing cost of higher education while providing access to the college or university that will make the student most successful.
Now Congress is entertaining tax reform options that threaten the financial stability of private nonprofit colleges and universities.
There is a proposal to place a tax on private college endowments. The earnings from the endowments provide student scholarships as well as funding for existing and new academic programs. Cutting this revenue threatens to reduce scholarship aid to needy students and increase costs for academic offerings. While the West Virginia private colleges and universities appear not to be currently affected by this new tax, as Congress continues to look to the private sector for revenue, this could certainly affect us over time. It also creates a disincentive for alumni and other loyal donors to give large gifts to help off-set the cost of access to higher education for students experiencing financial need.
Contrary to conventional thinking, most faculty and staff at private colleges are paid well below their public university counterparts. They choose to work at a private college because they want to focus on teaching and mentoring students in a smaller college environment. Consequently, campuses offer family benefits to offset the low salaries. One such benefit is tuition discounts for employees and their families. Congress is now considering taxing these discounts. This may hamper the ability of campuses who serve low-income, first-generation college students to attract highly qualified faculty. Approximately 36% of students attending West Virginia’s private colleges and universities are first-generation college students.
There are other benefits that support students and institutions that are targets of the proposed new tax legislation. Some of these include removing the student loan interest deduction and crippling the IRA Charitable Rollover. And the list goes on.
Chipping away at the nation’s nonprofit higher education institutions to fund tax reform can have devastating long-term consequences on our state’s and nation’s economy. Congress should seek ways to bolster education opportunities; the future of our state and nation depend on it.