As analysts and pundits pick apart and scrutinize the tax reform bill recently passed by Republicans in Congress, they should pay closer attention to three aspects of the plan that have largely been overlooked. According to Amy Webb, NYU Stern School of Business professor and a leading futurist, these factors amount to a dangerous attack on higher education, and by extension the ability of the United States to compete in the increasingly high stakes game of global innovation and leadership.
“Tucked inside the Senate and House versions of the bill are provisions that would make it substantially harder for low- or middle-class American students to receive post-secondary education,” writes Webb in a recent article for Harvard Business Review, published before the bill was officially passed by Congress. “Two cuts that are on the table: ending the deductions that graduate students can take on their tuitions, and rolling back deductions on the interest paid on student loans. Moreover, other elements of the tax plan – such as a proposal to tax some university endowments – might reduce the amount of money schools have available for financial aid.”
The rolling back of tax breaks and aid to encourage middle and lower income Americans to attend college is a grave error, especially when it comes part of a reform that is touted as boosting U.S. competitiveness and jobs growth. “It’s implausible that a positive outcome could possibly result from these changes,” Webb says. “Within a generation, fewer Americans will be able to afford a college education, which will ultimately lead to America falling behind as a global economic superpower.”
Webb is the founder of the Future Today Institute and best-selling author of “The Signals Are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe Is Tomorrow’s Mainstream” (Public Affairs, December 2016). As her research is focused on anticipating social, economic and technological changes based on current trends, Webb is vocal about short-sighted policy choices that will have long-term implications for the major challenge of the 21st century: ensuring the U.S. remains a leader in innovation and progress.
Webb’s verdict on these changes to the tax system and the general high costs of higher education is damning: “This puts America’s future workforce at a significant disadvantage, and it jeopardizes our future competitive edge globally. An educated electorate results in a strong, resilient, creative workforce. A country full of educated citizens innovates, solves challenges, gives rise to new businesses, supports new jobs, makes the economy strong, and creates the creature comforts we all want. If we continue down this path, we will see a new set of global superpowers emerge within a generation, and America will not be one of them.”
For more of Amy Webb’s analysis on Washington’s education policies, read the full article in HBR.