Deciding between the Ph.D. and the Ed.D: Where Does the Divide Lie?

While carrying out the research needed to pen a brief, but useful, blog on the differences between Ed.D. and Ph.D. programs in Higher Education, I came to the following realizations:

  1. There is already a wealth of online resources available -YouTube videos, blog posts, university websites, and entire dissertations- that tackle this very topic.

Here are a few links if you are interested:

  1. Speaking with the educational leaders (at a mid-western university) who are responsible for these programs can provide beneficial insight into differentiating between both programs.

Although my intention was only to interview the program directors of the Ed.D. and Ph.D. Educational Leadership programs, what emerged was an even greater scholarly conversation enriched by an unexpected spate of internal document analyses.

Ed.D: Educational Practitioners Ready to Roll up Sleeves and Get Ready to Work:

I first spoke with a director of an Ed.D. program who elaborated on the importance of prospective applicants having significant work history and/or leadership experience in the field of education. She highlighted that successful applicants and graduates generally enter the program, “ready to roll up their sleeves and work towards solving a problem or current issue in education.” While an applicant’s desire to correct an existent problem contributes a major distinguishing factor to their application, the individual’s fit within the program cannot be ignored. The applicant’s personal and educational goals should align with the program coursework and faculty interest to ensure that candidates push the limits of education beyond the status quo.

Ph.D: Broader Inquiry and Greater Application

After speaking to the program director of the Ed.D. program, I found myself comparing the goals of the professional doctorate with my personal experiences within my Ph.D. program; indeed, the differences were stark. The Ph.D. program director spoke candidly about these and other differences distinguishing the Ed.D. from the Ph.D. She highlighted that the Ph.D. program aims to prepare students for faculty and policy careers.  She made it clear that the Ph.D. candidates who were successful generally exhibited a broader academic curiosity and a desire to explore issues of policy and further research. Finally, she admitted that while she and her faculty colleagues held Ed.D. and Ph.D. candidates to similar expectations and standards of rigor, the Ph.D. program requires more empirical research of enrolled students.

Final Muses and Closing Thoughts

Interestingly, the Ph.D. program leader emphasized the importance of Ed.D. and Ph.D. doctoral students adapting their programs to their post-graduation career goals, rather than letting the type of doctoral degree dictate their professional outcome. She advised Ed.D. students whose aim it is to enter the professoriate to ensure that their coursework prepares them for faculty positions. To achieve this goal, she recommended that candidates complete research courses and develop policy analysis skills while pursuing their doctoral degree.

As these thoughts percolated, I considered the interesting crossroads at which the objectives of the Ed.D. and Ph.D. intersect. For example, to which of these programs does a Director of Student Activities who loves co-curricular programming, but who also possesses a burning intellectual curiosity apply? Will an Ed.D. program satisfy this interest? Are the requirements of the practitioner’s doctorate sufficient to answer the scholarly questions pondered by the director at night? Alternatively, what about the recent M.A in Student Affairs graduate who desires in-depth training in research methods, data analysis, and information dissemination, but who has no desire to enter the highly political realm of the ivory tower? Does the Ph.D. program provide the right educational setting for such training and development, and more importantly, does it offer career development opportunities for a candidate with non-faculty aspirations?

As suggested in the Preparation Program Resources document provided by a former Ed.D. program director at the mid-western university, it is crucial for departments to differentiate between both types of programs, so that prospective students are aware of the purpose and objective of their intended terminal degree. The question then arises, “how can this be achieved, if there is little consensus within the academic community about the doctoral level learning objectives which separate the Ed.D. from the Ph.D.?

It would be worthwhile for departmental faculty to closely examine their educational philosophy and expertise when attempting to clearly delineate differences between both programs. Such keen reflection provides an opportunity to distinguish between the objectives, coursework, assessment, and career outlook of each program, while simultaneously illuminating grey areas which may arise. If, or when these instances of ambiguity occur, content area specialists can either take the lead in steering the conversation or they recommend external consultants qualified for quelling these scholarly disputes.

Indeed, such deliberations can be painstaking and time-consuming, however, the end-product will benefit the department and the many students who intend to or who are currently in pursuit of their terminal degree. In the long-run, the institutions that have engaged in this work will serve as aspirant models for those that have not and they will create benchmarks and best-practices for the higher education sector to follow.


Currently an Educational Leadership Ph.D. student, Le Shorn Benjamin has spent the last eight (8) years developing a multifaceted career in the field of education. Le Shorn is a member of ACPA and the current Coordinator of Doctoral Students Initiatives for the Graduate Students and New Professionals Community of Practice (GSNPCoP). Le Shorn’s professional experiences have spanned national and international borders and included K-12 teaching, higher education co-curricular program assessment, and the quality assurance and accreditation of tertiary education programs.



AIDET: A Model for Enhancing Communication


Working in the Department of Student Life at Broward College in Florida has helped me realize how hard new professionals in higher education work. The impact we have on students is so important, yet we often feel our contributions are overlooked due to the lack of recognition or support we get from our leaders. However, it is important to stay focused on the success of our students and how we can contribute to their continued growth and development. Whether it is sharing a simple smile, saying hello, or giving advice, every professional can make a difference in students’ lives. Borrowing from medical professionals who are similarly committed to helping their patients, the purpose of this article is to share a framework for further enhancing our interactions with students. The acronym of the framework is AIDET, which stands for: Acknowledge, Introduce, Duration, Explanation, and Thank you (“The Sharp Experience,” 2017).


The Acknowledge step is focused on creating a positive first impression and is similar to the Disarm phase of the Appreciative Advising framework (Bloom, Hutson, & He, 2008). Ways to properly acknowledge students include making eye contact, smiling, and warmly welcoming them to our office by saying, “Good morning, I’m glad you are able to make it this morning. What has been the highlight of your day so far?”


With new visitors, it is important to include your name in the way that you prefer to be addressed in your introduction. For example, if you prefer to be called by your first name, introduce yourself by sharing your first name. Let visitors know you are happy to see them and that you look forward to assisting them. Higher education professionals cannot know all of the answers to students’ questions, so it is important to know how to properly refer students to the appropriate resource. For example, if you serve as an admissions counselor and are meeting with a student to finalize an enrollment application and a financial aid question arises, first make sure that it is a financial aid question. If it is, then the ideal scenario is to walk the student over to the financial aid office to introduce the student to one of your financial aid colleagues (Bloom et al., 2008). If walking the student over to the office is not possible, be sure to give specific directions about how to get to the financial aid office and help the student write down the questions so that the student feels prepared.


We can all agree that sometimes there just does not seem to be enough hours in a day to get all our work done. However, keeping in mind that students come first, one strategy that has proven effective is to schedule time on our calendars to complete the necessary paperwork and emails to ensure student meeting times are not interrupted (Howard, 2014). By doing so, you will not fall behind on your daily tasks or appointments. But in the event, that you are delayed for an upcoming student appointment, make sure to briefly step out and notify the student that you have not forgotten them and that you will be right with them in a few minutes. This small gesture lets students know that you understand their time is valuable and you have not forgotten about them.


Instead of just telling students what to do and then expecting them to compliantly follow your directions, make time to explain why you are asking them to perform a task. For example, explaining the reason behind certain documents needed to complete the financial aid process, or why a certain entrance exam is needed as part of the admissions process. Sometimes we are in such a hurry that we do not make time to explain the reason behind the request. Not only are they entitled to know this information, but by explaining the rationale behind the request, it gives the student more motivation to complete the task.

Thank You

Students do not have to come see us or do what we tell them to do, so it is important to thank them for meeting with us. Last impressions are as crucial as first impressions, so end the conversation by thanking students for taking the time to meet with you. Shaking hands, smiling, walking individuals outside your office, etc. are all ways to show appreciation and gratitude (Hargis, 2005).


As new professionals in the field of Higher Education, whether you are an advisor, financial aid counselor, faculty or staff, we all can and need to enhance our communication with our students. The AIDET framework reminds us of the importance of using the following five steps to optimize our interactions with students: acknowledge, introduce, be aware of the duration of our appointments, explain, and thank our students.

Christina Faas is a graduate student in the Higher Education Leadership program at Florida Atlantic University. 


Bloom, J., Hutson, B. L., & He, Y. (2008). The appreciative advising revolution. Champaign, IL: Stipes Publishing, LLC.

Hargis, L. (2005). Appreciative inquiry in higher education as an effective communication tool: A case study (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Digital Dissertations. (UMI 3188223)

Howard, M. (2014). Effective communication in higher education (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Digital Dissertations. (UMI 1569557)

The Sharp Experience. (2017). AIDET: FIVE steps to achieving satisfaction. Retrieved from

How to be Taken Seriously as a Young Professional…#TheStruggleIsReal

J. Brynes Headshot

First, the good news – I was offered my first full-time position in higher education at the age of 19. Now, at 31 years old, I have amassed 12 years of experience and have earned promotions several times. Now the bad news – my youthful looks do not match my job title. My professional peers and colleagues are talking about retirement while I feel like I am just getting started. Being much younger than my counterparts has given me a real challenge in getting people to take me seriously. Other common roadblocks to administrators who look young are things like navigating university politics, interacting with faculty and administrators who are hesitant to change, and being labeled a “millennial.” The purpose of this article is to provide five specific tips to help struggling young administrators establish themselves as competent professionals.

Five Tips for Overcoming the Struggle

Now, to the good stuff. I pass on to you, my words of wisdom. Some may seem intuitive, and others may not.  In true millennial fashion, I present these tips to you in hashtag form…


“Years of experience” do not mean much in higher education institutions without also having a graduate degree. This is the one tip I wish someone had told me sooner. After all, would you want an administrator working in higher education who did not have a higher degree? For most positions in higher education, a Master’s degree will be adequate, but a doctoral degree will likely be necessary if you dream to be eligible for senior-level positions such as President, Provost, Dean, or Department Chair. Start working on your graduate degree(s) sooner rather than later because life only gets more complicated the older you become.


Speak up, speak for yourself, and find others to speak on your behalf. Networking has been crucial to my career success. Get to know people and find mentors. It is important to become comfortable sharing your goals and ideas. If people do not know about your aspirations, how can they help you get there? Once you have established mentors, they will more than likely be willing to speak on your behalf and this will open doors for you. Be willing to walk through those doors. There are lots of ways to connect with people. Higher education has a variety of professional organizations that host local, regional, and national conferences. Attending conferences and joining committees are great ways to meet like-minded people. One of my favorite tips for attending conferences is to always exchange business cards with people I meet. As soon as I walk away, I jot a few notes on the back of their card. This one step helps me to follow-up with them after the conference and write a personal note with specific details about our conversation.


You are going to have a reputation; this is inevitable. It is up to you whether that reputation is good or bad. Your reputation can either help or hurt you. Warren Buffet said “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently” (Tuttle, 2010, para. 20). Truer words have never been spoken. In higher education, your reputation is everything and word spreads fast. Friends and colleagues across campuses and institutions talk to each other, and what they hear will impact their impression of you more than your résumé or cover letter ever could. In my opinion, the best way to develop a good reputation is to be true to your word. If you say you’ll do something, do it! Be reliable, be professional, and always be willing to go above and beyond. Actions speak louder than words.


Appearance matters and I’m not just talking about your physical look and dress. Yes, the way you physically present yourself is critical, but appearance is so much more than that. In today’s technology age, our digital profiles are just as important as our physical images. How are you presenting yourself on social media? What conclusions will people make based on the pictures you post or your Twitter feed? What you post on Facebook or Twitter can impact your professional career. Do not badmouth your employer, whine about students, or post pictures of you engaging in certain behaviors that are issues on college campus (e.g. drinking alcohol). Make sure that your LinkedIn profile is professional, well written, and up-to-date.


In meetings, do not speak just because you feel your voice needs to be heard. Let your words be few and powerful. I consider this be a common rookie mistake. Once we get at “the table,” we want to be heard and sometimes what we say makes us look inexperienced and uninformed. Do more listening than talking and carefully choose your words when you interject your opinion. It will be easier to gain the respect of those at the table when you consistently prove your worth by sharing timely and insightful information.


I have learned many lessons the hard way in my twelve years as an emerging higher education professional. It is my sincere desire to help others navigate the path to success as a young professional in higher education because #TheStruggleIsReal! By pursuing graduate degree(s), networking, earning your reputation, owning your appearance, and choosing your words carefully, you will maximize your career in higher education. #MayTheForceBeWithYou

Jessica Brynes is the Associate Director for Undergraduate Student Advising, Technology & Reporting in the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) College of Engineering & Computer Science. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Higher Education at FAU.



Tuttle, B. (2010, March 1). Warren Buffett’s boring, brilliant wisdom. Time Magazine. Retrieved from


Five Important Reminders about the Importance of College Parents


As student affairs professionals, our primary focus is on student development, transition and academic success. However, we notice in today’s age, parents of millennials also play an important role in the lives of their students, especially because many of them are interested in their child’s educational endeavors.  Many higher education professionals can become frustrated with what they perceive to be the over-involvement of college parents. The reality is that parents are here to stay and higher education professionals need to reframe parents from enemies to allies since Onu (2015) suggests that parental involvement in higher education will continue to increase throughout the years and finds that parents positively impact their child’s success. Parental involvement provides a secure foundation for student success, particularly in first-year students. Wartman and Savage (2008) found positive correlations among parental involvement and identity development, adjustment, academic success, and retention. The purpose of this article is to challenge the perception of parental over-involvement and to educate professionals about five things they should keep in mind as they interact with college parents.

Parents are Transitioning into Collegiate Life, Too

Parents of K-12 school children are encouraged and expected to be actively involved in their child’s life. However, once their child matriculates into college, parents traditionally have been expected to seamlessly shift from active involvement to standing on the sidelines. Just as it takes time for students to adjust to collegiate life, higher education professionals should also extend the same courtesy to parents in making this transition. (Johnson & Schelhas-Miller, 2011).

Not All Parents Are Helicopter Parents

Fray and Cline first coined the term, helicopter parent, as parents who hovered over their child’s life (Johnson & Schelhas-Miller, 2011). We hear this helicopter parent term frequently used in higher education settings, however, how many “helicopter parents” are out there? It is easy to over-inflate the number of true helicopter parents by focusing on a few hovering parent examples. Remember that many, if not most, parents are involved in their child’s education at appropriate levels.

Parents Want to Feel Connected to Their Child’s Institution

Many college parents are interested in feeling connected to their child’s institution, as a way to remain connected to their child. Due to the rising cost of tuition and decreases in public state funding for higher education, parents not only help keep higher education institutions running by helping to pay tuition, they can also serve as valued volunteers, in both private and public institutions, through parent association leadership positions. Increasingly, institutions are beginning to provide offices focused on parent engagement and resources as a means of keeping parents connected to the institution (Watson, 2007).

Parents Are Potential Institutional Donors

Not only can parents contribute their time and tuition dollars, they are also potential donors. It is important to remember that each interaction with a parent is a reflection on the institution and can impact a parent’s decision to donate to the institution in the future (Wartman & Savage, 2008; Kiyama et. Al, 2015).

Not All Parents Understand American Higher Education

For the parents of first-generation, under-represented, or international students who do not have direct experience in American higher education institutions, it can be easy for higher education professionals to forget that not all parents have first-hand experience on a college campus (Kiyama et. Al, 2015). This represents an exciting opportunity to educate parents about higher education traditions, acronyms, operations, and more.


Parents have the potential to be important partners with higher education professionals in terms of supporting students.  This article has highlighted five important reminders when interacting with parents: parents are transitioning into collegiate life, too; not all parents are helicopter parents; parents want to feel connected to their child’s institution; parents are potential institutional donors; and, not all parents understand American higher education. It takes a village to successfully graduate students, so remember that parents are an important part of students’ villages and intentional collaboration with them will help increase student persistence and graduation rates.


Allison Hackett currently serves as the Assistant Director for the Office of Parent and Family Programs at Florida Atlantic University. Previously, Allison served within the Office of Undergraduate Admissions where she counseled students and families who wished to begin their academic endeavors. Allison is passionate about challenging the norm of parental involvement in higher education, in hopes that higher education professionals welcome the collaboration and focus on the contributions each individual makes in supporting student success. 

Dealing with Uncertain Circumstances


Today students experience alarming rates of anxiety and stress due to a perfect storm of uncertainty about immigration policies, natural disasters, complex international issues and the threat of war. For example, undocumented immigrant students who are fearful the Dream Act will be suspended are facing major uncertainty about their future in America, their ability to pursue a degree, and obtain legal citizenship. This is in addition to the normal stressors college students face, including preparing for exams, selecting a major, and articulating their post-graduation career plans. This uncertainty can increase students’ anxiety and stress levels. The purpose of this paper is to identify how emerging student affairs professionals can use the six phases of Appreciative Advising to help support students as they deal with uncertainty.

Anxiety and Stress Defined

Uncertain circumstances can provoke anxiety and stress amongst students (Folk & Folk, 2016). Manifestation of stress or anxiety might be visible when it starts interfering with a normal lifestyle and academic performance.  For example, some physical symptoms include sleep problems, inability to rest and concentrate, heart palpitations, headaches, neck tension, and upset stomach, etc. (Folk & Folk, 2016). Stress is the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. The human body is designed to experience stress, but when students face continuous challenges and start to lose hope stress can become harmful.

The Six Phases of Appreciative Advising

Although student affairs professionals are not counselors or therapists, they can use the Appreciative Advising model to help students who are stressed by uncertainty. Appreciative Advising “is the intentional collaborative practice of asking positive, open-ended questions that help students optimize their educational experiences and achieve their dream, goals, and potentials” (Bloom, Huston, & He, n.d., para. 1). The Appreciative Advising model has six phases: Disarm, Discovery, Dream, Design, Deliver and Don’t Settle (Bloom, Hutson, & He, 2008).


In this phase, professionals warmly greet their students (Bloom, Hutson, & He, 2008). The professional has to be authentic, genuine, sincere and help students achieve their full potential. Students who are feeling stressed or anxious may appear distracted or unhappy to meet, making it important for the professional to not mirror their tension and instead be open and welcoming.


During this phase, the focus is on asking students open-ended questions to get to know their stories and strengths (Bloom, Hutson, & He, 2008). For students who appear to be stressed, the questions can be a mechanism to empower them to deal with their stressors. For example, asking students to “Tell me about a time when you were faced with a challenge and how you overcame that challenge” gives them the opportunity to reflect on times in the past when they felt stressed and overcame that stress by employing specific strategies. Similarly, asking this question allows students to realize that they have faced uncertainty in the past and have been able to overcome that uncertainty: “We live in uncertain times, so what is an example of a time when you faced a situation where there was uncertainty involved in terms of knowing how best to proceed.” Listen carefully for transferrable skills and strategies students have acquired through overcoming past challenges that they may be able to draw upon to face the current situation.


This phase involves asking students about their hopes and dreams for the future. Many students who are feeling stressed have lost sight of their hopes and dreams, so asking dream questions can help reconnect them with their purpose.  An example can be, “paint me a picture of what your ideal post-graduation life looks like?” It is important to give students time to reflect on their answers and to listen carefully to what they say. Re-connecting students with positive mental images of their future may help reduce their stress and anxiety levels.


Once students’ dreams have been identified, student affairs professionals work to co-create a solid plan for making the dream a reality (Bloom, Hutson, & He, 2008). Helping students realize that there are specific steps will help alleviate the uncertainty of their futures. Remind students to focus their attention and efforts on the things that they have control over. Let them know the importance of self-care, including healthy eating, exercise, and sleeping habits. Asking students what they are going to do for fun while carrying out their plan is an important reminder to them that they need to make time for their family, friends, and hobbies too.

However, if students continue to be overly stressed and their uncertainty about the future is paralyzing their ability to move forward, it is important to refer students to the counseling department. Part of being a student affairs professional is recognizing the boundaries of your training and abilities.


In the deliver phase students execute the plan that they co-created during the design phase (Bloom, Hutson, & He, 2008). It is important for student affairs professionals to reiterate their confidence in students’ abilities to follow-through on the plan and encourage students to come back if they need help.

Don’t Settle

This phase is about encouraging students to continuously grow and develop. Questions related to reflection give students the opportunity to reflect on what they have learned and how they can use it to deal with upcoming uncertain circumstances that will inevitably arise in their lives.


We live in uncertain times and it is no surprise that this can be stress-provoking for students. This article highlights how the six phases of Appreciative Advising can be used in any place, in the classroom, hallway, campus or just into the advising or faculty  office to support students who are dealing with uncertainty making them feel involved during the hardest moments. Practically any student affairs practitioner, with training can cooperate to help the students to move on when difficulties arise and it is time to support and navigate by the side of the students that live in uncertain times.  Dealing with uncertainty is not easy, especially in this historic moment when assorted circumstances surround students within higher education.



Bloom, J. L., Hutson, B. L., & He, Y. (2008). The appreciative advising revolution. Champaign, IL: Stipes.

Bloom, J. L., Hutson, B. L., & He, Y. (n.d.). How can you empower your students to optimize their educational opportunities? Appreciative Advising. Retrieved from

Folk, J. & Folk, M. (2016). Anxiety symptoms. Retrieved from

Lauby, F. (2008). Leaving the ‘perfect dreamer’ behind? Narratives and mobilization in immigration reform. Journal Social Movement Studies, 15(4), 374-387.

Alejandra Quintero is a graduate student in the Higher Education Leadership M.A. program at Florida Atlantic University. 

3 Months Until #ACPA18!


“Everything happens for a reason.” I’ve used this phrase without hesitation for years now because it offers a poignant answer to life’s most illogical sequence of events. Looking back at #ACPA17, I can’t believe that its been nine months since I landed in Columbus, Ohio, unsure of what lay before me at my first ACPA convention. I had no idea what to expect because I had only attended one professional conference before and that was NASPA when it was in Chicago, Illinois. All I remember about Chicago was cold wind, lots of walking, and cheesy slices of deep dish pizza.

In terms of the ACPA versus NASPA debate, I’m a proud member of both professional organizations. I’ve been a member of NASPA since graduate school and I joined ACPA in Fall 2016. I will say; however, that part of me wishes I had joined ACPA sooner. I made a lot of valuable connections at #ACPA17 and there’s a small part of my subconscious that wonders what life would have been like had I made those connections earlier. But then again, everything happens for a reason.

The single most life-changing part of #ACPA17 was attending a pre-convention workshop. The Pan African Summit served as my first introduction to the ACPA family. On the surface, the summit was a great networking opportunity where I connected with tenured leaders in the field. However, “networking” is really what I call “village-building.” If there is only one concept that I can share with others, it’s that “it takes a village to raise a graduate (doctoral) student.” There has been nothing more paramount to my success than the support I’ve received from friends, family, and colleagues. The process of building a village is merely laying the foundation for supportive relationships. It’s taken a few trial runs to realize some relationships will take hold immediately, some take a bit longer, while others will never sprout at all. My advice for any graduate student or new professionals attending ACPA is to focus on building meaningful connections rather than just hoarding business cards.

As a conference, ACPA offers attendees numerous outlets for both relationship-building and personal development. Either myself or a colleague attended every session type and I heard nothing but great feedback about the engaging content curated by our field. Unfortunately, there were not enough hours in the day for me to attend each session that piqued my interest. I had to balance my time wisely and pick sessions that spoke to my personal and professional development priorities. In addition to the Pan African Summit, I still reflect the concepts about self-care and transitioning into the world of academia that I learned while at #ACPA17. The sessions I attended felt more like a sit-down with family rather than a classroom lecture. The last important takeaway to those considering attending a future convention is that once you’re a part of the ACPA family, you will always be a part of it.

Photo: Asia R. Randolph (left) is pictured with William & Mary’s Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Ginger Ambler, Ph.D. at the ACPA17 Most Promising Places to Work Award Ceremony.

Asia R. Randolph is a 2nd year Ph.D. student in the Higher Education Administration program at William & Mary.


#GradStudentTax Hurts Everybody

Last week, the House passed a “sweeping tax bill” that would cut taxes for all citizens in the short term, but only sustain those benefits for the richest of the rich in subsequent years. While we all would like a little money in our wallets by way of reduced taxes, the devil is in the details as this tax bill pushes our society backward in at least one important way: it creates a Grad Student Tax by taxing the full cost of education for graduate students. The fact that we are not paying attention to the extent of this bill is a huge loss for Iowans and the future of Iowa, its students.

As many analysts have reported, the people who win from these tax breaks are: extremely rich people, large corporations, retailers, and stockholders.

The people who lose: those who are sick, disaster victims, graduate students, everybody in the future who does not fall into the above list of winners.

Graduate students are important to the Iowa economy and the future of this country. These people represent a diverse swath of our population and range from young to old, represent all genders, are first-generation college students, are racially and ethnically diverse, they care about our communities, our economy, our safety, and our health. These are lifelong learners that care about our collective future – many are getting their education in Iowa to improve Iowa.
Sadly, the House bill introduces a new Grad Student Tax (#GradStudentTax), an increase in tax burden for the state’s student population. What you need to know is that the Grad Student Tax would raise taxes 30-60% for this population by eliminating tax credits for students. This will have detrimental effects on Iowans pursuing degrees in all fields, including those concerned with the future of the agrarian economy in this state.

Here’s how it will work: Many graduate students, particularly in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math fields (or STEM; including those that work with the agriculture industry) receive tuition remission credits. Tuition remission credits provide cost breaks to graduate students for their work conducting research that benefits the state of Iowa and the country at large. Additionally, depending on the school, these students may also receive medical insurance and a stipend (or a paycheck to pay for daily expenses like food, clothing, and housing). Currently, students are only taxed on the stipend and health insurance.

Under the new Grad Student Tax, students would be taxed on all of the income they receive (including the stipend, insurance, and tuition). For example, when I was at the University of Maryland College Park, my stipend was $14,000 a year for 20hr/week work, but usually much more. That is already a measly salary where housing costs run $900+/month and cost of living is one of the highest in the nation. Ames, IA and other college towns are not so different. The Grad Student Tax in the new House bill would force me to pay additional taxes on the cost of tuition which current tax law does not require. This is money that students never touch, meaning students can never spend this money on anything except education. It would reduce my take-home income and it would not provide me the ability to deduct costs for books, technology, or other school-related expenses. In my grad school scenario, my flexible income outside of housing costs was only $3,200/year. This Grad Student Tax would reduce that number even more forcing thousands of students to take out loans or not enroll in school at all. Sadly, this new Grad Student Tax also eliminates tax credits for loans adding insult to injury.

The new tax code would 1) change the tax brackets pushing some students into the 25% bracket from the 15% or lower bracket and increases taxable income for those who stay in the 15% bracket; 2) it increases the standard deduction to $12,000, a deduction that all individuals receive; 3) while at the same time, eliminating the personal exemption to $0 (impacting those with children); 4) lastly, it eliminates any deductions for tuition and related expenses.
But let us bring this closer to home and apply this to Iowa State University where I am a professor and where I work with graduate students who will be punished by the Grad Student Tax. I will round the numbers and use the most current data I have in hand. In the following scenario, taxes are raised for this student by 58%!!

Tuition: $11,000/year
Health Insurance: $2,500
Stipend (department dependent average work 20hr/week, but usually more): $24,000
Total= $37,500

Current Law:
Total Income: $26,500
Standard Deduction: ($6,350)
Personal Exemption: ($4,050)
Taxable Income: $16,100
Tax (15% Bracket): $2,415

New Law:
Total Income: $37,500
Standard Deduction: ($12,000)
Personal Exemption: ($0)
Taxable Income: $25,500
Tax (15% Bracket): $3,825

As you can see, taxes paid went from $2,415 to $3,825, a 58% raise. This is a simple scenario and each student’s situation will be different. However, the math is clear: the new Grad Student Tax in the new House bill will significantly raise taxes on graduate students who are training to be future educators, researchers, and leaders in our community. Multiple scenarios floating around the internet from individual graduate students to major universities show a 30-60% increase in taxes for graduate students, Google it yourself.

We must resist this bill in both chambers of Congress. Sen. Chuck Grassley is on the Senate Finance Committee and will need to reconcile this bill with the Senate’s version. Therefore, I implore you to speak out, write letters, and tell him that this tax bill hurts Iowans!

There is still time to save Iowa’s future and the great education that this state produces. Removing this provision from the bill is of dire importance to the sustainability of Iowa’s education, Iowa’s industry, and Iowa’s future. Let us all take a few more moments to fully understand the ways that this tax bill does not support individuals, but rather corporations. In the case of the Grad Student Tax, it hurts students, the future of our state.

Dr. Dian Squire is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs at Iowa State University.