Proposed Student Tax Hurts Local Economies

December 18, 2009

In this recession, the highest priority in higher education among political leaders should be college access and affordability. Anything short of this will exclude low- and moderate-income students from gaining the preparation they need to not only gain better salaries but also to contribute more to their communities.

Research by CEOs for Cities found that if each of the nation's 51 largest metropolitan areas improved their educational attainment by just one percentage point, the nation would realize a $124 billion annual dividend.

Yet as students are struggling to pay for rising tuition costs resulting from severe cuts in higher education funding by the states, the mayor of Pittsburgh, Luke Ravenstahl, has proposed a one percent tax on the college tuition of students in Pittsburgh. Students throughout the state are already sacrificing financially to pay for their college educations.

Half of Carnegie Mellon students who graduated in 2008 had an average debt of $29,346. At the University of Pittsburgh-Bradford, 92 percent of its 2008 graduating class had debt averaging $26,463. This tax will not only translate into more debt, it will significantly impact the ability of low- and moderate-income college students to enter college or stay enrolled.

There is no question that the recession exacerbated Pittsburgh's tenuous financial landscape but students cannot be the scapegoat of these financial troubles, not only because it's wrong but because it makes no economic sense.

Even before the recession, students throughout the state were paying the price of stagnant financial aid and increasing tuition. In the long run, Mayor Ravenstahl's strategy will certainly hurt the interests of Pittsburgh residents, especially its middle class.


Viany Orozco is a Policy Analyst in Economic Opportunity Program at Demos: Ideas & Action. Viany's research and analysis at Demos focuses on the economic challenges facing young people, with a particular focus on state-based policy solutions.


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