Trump’s Tax ‘Reform’ Will Devastate At-Risk College Students


Donald Trump didn’t invent scorched earth, callous conservatism, but there’s no denying he is fast perfecting the evil art. Consider the long and growing list of populations alienated or outright attacked over the past eleven months: women; people of color; poor folk; LGBTQ persons; Native Americans; moderate Republicans; intellectuals; news outlets; Muslims; immigrants; environmentalists; athletes; labor unions.

And now, via the sleight-of-hand tax bill foisted upon the nation courtesy of a 51-49 Senate tally, Team Trump has identified yet another group on whose back they can fund permanent tax breaks for rich folks and flush businesses: college students.

Dubbed “the reverse GI Bill” by US News & World Report contributor Peter Fenn, the misguided changes about to be inflicted on colleges include taxing both university endowments and tuition waivers for grad students — measures that will undoubtedly result in fewer undergraduate scholarships, and graduate assistantships for qualified but economically disadvantaged applicants.

Discouraging as these arbitrary “reforms” will be for applicants seeking to escape poverty by way of higher education, they will be nothing short of devastating for another sub-group: the estimated 22,000 enrolled community college students trying to earn a degree while living without shelter and/or a steady food supply.

Among the factors contributing to the hardship of keeping body and soul together, homeless and hungry community college students receive no additional funding to even temporarily offset their situation; and while employed at roughly the same rate as peers with stable environments, these students are more likely to work at low paying jobs during enrollment — jobs often in fields having no relationship to their actual courses of study.

These conditions leave economically disadvantaged community college students stuck in the cycle they’re desperately trying to break. For many, staying in school is a constant battle eased only temporarily through local support from shelters and food banks.

But even when those services are in place, there’s the inherent challenge of identifying which students are experiencing or at-risk for life on the economic extremes of community colleges. The shame quotient alone deters connecting them with ready

resources, leaving them feeling isolated from campus life and opportunities.

Although less prevalent among community than four-year colleges, many public and private schools have initiated programs featuring on- or near-campus food banks, community gardens, food recovery protocols, walk-in clinics and free toiletries.

In most cases these services are underwritten through partnerships among nonprofits, for-profits and faith-based organizations; creating a sense of community awareness and investment in educational parity. But community colleges are generally left financially orphaned in areas where one or more four-year-plus universities exist; meaning their students’ profiles and economic realities are eclipsed by the marquee brands and deeper alumni pockets.

Given the new normal of unfettered, draconian Republican economics, scores of educational institutions are about to enter a new stage of making more with less. But few will feel the pain like the fragile network of community colleges.

And although fewer yet, no one will be more affected than some hungry and homeless seekers of a better life.

Postscript: For more on college hunger and homelessness, check out Wisconsin HOPE Lab ( and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness (

Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister and substance abuse counselor living in Pittsburgh, Pa. Email

From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2018

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