Grad tuition waiver tax dead, student loan interest deduction saved in final GOP bill

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Senate and House Republican leaders have agreed to abandon many of the controversial proposals that higher education leaders and students had rallied to thwart, according to congressional aides. Under the agreement, tuition waivers received by graduate students remain tax-free, students can still deduct loan interest payments and bonds that colleges use for construction stay interest-free.

Details of the final legislation are still forthcoming, but aides with knowledge of the negotiations who were not authorized to speak publicly say lawmakers have responded to the outcry from students.

Thousands of graduate students have staged walkouts in protest over the GOP tax plan, while eight students were arrested last week for demonstrating outside the Capitol Hill office of House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Many said their taxes would soar if a House Republican proposal to treat their tuition benefits as income made it into the final version of the legislation. Universities waive tuition for graduate students willing to work as teaching and research assistants, and those waivers are exempt from taxation.

In the wake of the graduate protests, a group of 31 House Republicans, led by Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, sent a letter asking party leaders to strip out the tuition waiver provision. They wrote that the “repeal of the income exclusion for graduate students would subject thousands of graduate students to a major tax increase at a time in their lives when they lack the ability to pay.”

Graduate students, alongside other people with education debt, were also up in arms over a proposal to eliminate the student loan interest deduction. The deduction lets people repaying student loans reduce their tax burden by as much as $2,500. Because borrowers can claim the deduction even if they choose not to itemize, the tax benefit is available to anyone paying interest on education debt. The higher the interest payments, the greater the deduction, which is why the benefit is especially valuable to people with large loan amounts, such as graduate students.

Associations representing colleges and universities have rallied in defense ofstudent tax benefits and implored lawmakers to exclude provisions they say would harm schools. Some of their efforts appear successful, including the axing of a provision that would have gotten rid of interest-free bonds that many private colleges use to fund construction on campus.

But aides say lawmakers remain determined – at least for now – to impose a 1.4 percent excise tax on the endowments of a handful of private colleges and universities. It’s unclear which threshold made it into the final version, but the House plan had called for taxing endowments worth at least $250,000 per full-time student, while the Senate doubled the cap.

A bipartisan group of nearly 30 lawmakers on Wednesday sent a letter to party leaders urging them to abandon the proposed excise tax on endowments, calling it “unprecedented” and “a serious threat to higher education institutions and their ability to provide need-based financial aid to their students.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement the tax overhaul “is still a terrible bill that rewards the wealthy and corporations at the expense of the middle class.”

“But as it relates to higher education it doesn’t do quite as much damage, thanks to our members’ activism, as it did last week ,” she said.

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December 15, 2017 at 12:21AM

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Grad tuition waiver tax dead, student loan interest deduction saved in final GOP bill

ICC wins $1 million grant for solar job-training program

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EAST PEORIA — Illinois Central College will announce details of a new solar energy job training program at a press conference next week.

The community college was recently awarded a $1 million grant to develop the program, Rita Ali, vice president of diversity and community impact, told board members during a brief meeting Thursday.

ICC is one of four organizations throughout the state selected to create the job-training programs. The grant, funded by Illinois’ Future Energy Jobs Act, will be used to train 120 people as solar installers. Ex-offenders and the chronically-unemployed are among the groups that will receive priority during the application process.

Tri-County Urban League, Heaven’s View Christian Fellowship Church and Illinois Peoples’ Action are among the program’s partners. 

ICC trustees also discussed a new bidding process for hiring an auditing firm. Under new legal guidelines, institutions are no longer legally required to change auditing firms every three to five years. The current firm, Clifton Larson Allen, will be able to bid for the college’s auditing services. Trustees will vote on the new process at the January meeting.

Pam Adams can be reached at 686-3245 or padams@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @padamspam.

 

 

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December 14, 2017 at 07:12PM

ICC wins $1 million grant for solar job-training program

Elmhurst College administration hears from clergy, adjunct faculty on union organizing issue

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ELMHURST – A delegation of United Church of Christ clergy delivered a letter Dec. 5 to Elmhurst College President Troy VanAken’s office.

The letter had been signed by 104 pastors from around the United States who support non-tenured faculty’s ability to organize a union, which event organizers say the administration has been fighting, despite its connection with the United Church of Christ.

In the letter, clergy members expressed their "deep disappointment that Elmhurst College is seeking to use its affiliation with the Church to claim exemption from the oversight of the National Labor Relations Board in the efforts of its adjunct faculty to organize" and asked the administration to "find in the Church a partner for sharing in the struggle for justice and peace."

"We work continually with all of our employees to maintain a strong working environment for them so that we can offer the best learning environment for our students," college spokeswoman Desiree Chen said in a statement Dec. 6.

Twelve people had gathered at 2 p.m. Dec. 5 at the campus’s Frick Center in support of non-tenured faculty, including Elmhurst College alumna Shelly Ruzicka, communications and development director for Arise Chicago, a workers’ rights group.

"It’s pretty disappointing for my alma mater to do things that are not in line with the teachings that I learned here," Ruzicka said in an interview before the event.

She added those teachings included "honoring all humanity," "dignity on the job" and "learning about the world around me."

Matilda Stubbs, an adjunct professor of sociology, and David McCurdy, an adjunct professor of religious studies and United Church of Christ clergyman, discussed their concerns about low pay for adjuncts and lack of office space.

"It’s hypocritical…for the school to claim or use as a shield religious exemption claiming affiliation with a denomination that supports, clearly and for a long time, organizing," said the Rev. John Thomas, board member of Arise Chicago and former president of the United Church of Christ.

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December 14, 2017 at 10:01AM

Elmhurst College administration hears from clergy, adjunct faculty on union organizing issue

Augustana College students turn love of video games into scholarship opportunities

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ROCK ISLAND– They’re play makers in the game, but the game is played behind a screen.

"It brings five people together that need to work cooperatively and communicate effectively to play better than the other team," says Augustana sophomore Michael Salamone.

It’s competitive like more traditional sports. It’s playing video games; it’s called eSports.

"Physical activity, other than the whole keyboard and mouse pressing, that’s the difference," says Salamone.

But it’s more than competition.

Here at Augustana College, playing video games could now lead to thousands of dollars in scholarship money.

Salamone is president of Augustana eSports.

"We are just getting into this. We are very, very new," says Salamone.

Students can join, and if they’re good enough, they’ll go to tournaments and compete against other colleges and universities nationwide.

Each tournament has a different prize amount.

"The first place team will get $8,000 in scholarships which will be used towards tuition or room and board," says Salamone.

More than 100 Augie students have shown interest in joining in less than a month.

"It has been way better and way more attended than I had ever dreamed of it being," says Salamone.

And the squad is looking strong this year.

"We just had a scrimmage against one college, and we learned a lot from it," says Salamone.

They are playing video games to pay for school, using the make-believe world to pay for college in the real one.

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December 13, 2017 at 10:03PM

Augustana College students turn love of video games into scholarship opportunities

Joliet Junior College to reimburse students $2.9 million in Visa prepaid debit cards

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JOLIET – Joliet Junior College officials announced in a board meeting Tuesday that it would be reimbursing its students roughly $2.9 million – in the form of Visa prepaid debit cards.

“JJC’s board of trustees and college leadership made the difficult decision to raise tuition by $19 per credit hour last spring to help make up for an anticipated reduction in funding from the state of Illinois this year,” JJC President Dr. Judy Mitchell wrote in an email to students. “However, because state funding is better than expected this year, we are able to partially reimburse you for the financial burden you helped us shoulder during this difficult time.”

Each student will receive the payment as a Visa prepaid debit card in the mail, said Kelly Rohder-Tonelli, Executive Director of Communications and Marketing for JJC.

The college will disburse around $2.9 million in total to students registered for both fall 2017 and spring 2018 classes. That figure equals the extra state funding the college expects to receive above its fiscal year 2018 budget.

Students will receive $12 per credit hour in which they were enrolled. Rohder-Tonelli said choosing Visa cards rather than checks was more cost-effective for the school. The cards do not cost anything additional to load.

The Board of Trustees made the student appreciation payment a priority after the fiscal year 2018 state budget was passed, Rohder-Tonelli said.

“We have all been impacted on some level by the financial instability at the state level,” board chairman Bob Wunderlich said. “Many of our students struggle with financial barriers and we have worked diligently to remove these barriers through the development of additional scholarships and other support services. This action hopefully shows our students how important their continued success is to us and how we value their trust and investment in JJC as their first choice in higher education.”

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December 13, 2017 at 12:05PM

Joliet Junior College to reimburse students $2.9 million in Visa prepaid debit cards

NIU College of Law to lower out-of-state tuition

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DeKALB – Northern Illinois University law students from out-of-state currently pay about double the rate charged to their in-state counterparts.

The jury is in, and that’s about to change.

The university’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved a domestic tuition rate structure for the College of Law that will allow all U.S. residents enrolled in the school to pay the same tuition starting in fall 2018.

Mark Cordes, interim dean of the College of Law, said in a news release that he was excited to see the change.

“We have always prided ourselves on offering an excellent legal education at an affordable price," he said. "This change improves our value proposition for students outside of Illinois, and this will allow us to better compete for the strongest students across the country."

In October, the board approved a plan to set out-of-state tuition for nonresidents at the same rate as in-state students starting in the fall 2018 semester. College of Law students, however, were exempt from this proposal.

"Our graduates go on to succeed in all facets of law, from public interest to private practice to corporate law,” Cordes said in the release. “We believe law students across the country will recognize that combination of quality and value, and will be eager join us.”

Tuition and fees for the College of Law will be remaining at $915.81 per credit hour. Tuition is capped at a little less than $11,000 for students taking 12 or more credit hours.

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December 12, 2017 at 02:10PM

NIU College of Law to lower out-of-state tuition

InFocus: Montemagno Reflects on First Semester

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December 12, 2017 at 08:18AM

InFocus: Montemagno Reflects on First Semester