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How The GOP Tax Bill Would Affect Community Colleges


Community colleges are especially concerned about possible changes to the tax code that House and Senate negotiators are trying to work out now. The House version would eliminate deductions for tuition fees and the interest on student loans. Jose Adames, who's the president of El Centro College in Dallas, thanks very much for joining us.

JOSE ADAMES: Well, thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: And how would these kinds of changes affect your students?

ADAMES: Well, let's start with the education tax credit, which is a $2,500 dollar annual tax credit for college students that can be claimed. Under the House version, part-time students would no longer be able to qualify for this deduction. And here at El Centro, over 80 percent of our students are part-time students, so we are clearly concerned about how that may impact our student enrollment and the opportunities that community colleges throughout the country provide our students as well.

SIMON: And many of your students have to work for a living in order to be able to afford to attend college in the first place.

ADAMES: Well, that happens in many - or most community colleges. And certainly, El Centro is a prime example of that. We're a very diverse community in terms of students from different backgrounds, including of color. Many students have families. They have children, and so over 80 percent of our students are part-time students because of that in part. And they also are low-income students, so they need financial aid such as federal Pell Grants as well as what Texas, here, provides in support for students as well.

SIMON: And what if there was no longer a deduction for student loans?

ADAMES: Well, that's another area. At El Centro, the percentage of students that leave the college debt is about 34 percent. And the average student debt is about $21,000. Students are eligible for Pell. Pell doesn't cover all of the needs that students have. It does cover tuition. It does cover fees. It does cover books. But students need living.

And again, you know, my concern is when students leave our institution - and a number of them do transfer on to four-year institutions - they're acquiring, in some cases, additional debt. If they're not able to not claim the interest on the student loans, you know, that's just going to have a negative impact altogether on student enrollment.

And the overall goal of at least El Centro is to grow the job opportunities for students - students who would otherwise not be thinking about coming on to college, not being able to fulfill the needs for their families through higher education, not being able to acquire the middle-skills jobs that are really sorely needed in the Dallas area.

SIMON: Under the House version of the bill, millions fewer Americans would be able to write off donations to various charities. Do you think that would affect El Centro?

ADAMES: We are concerned about that as well. You know, there are folks that do support our students in terms of scholarship development, supporting our students in different ways. If you eliminate that, you're essentially hurting not only the community colleges, you're essentially hurting all of the nonprofits like United Way and others that depend on these contributions to be able to support the endeavors and the projects that they have, such as scholarship development for our students.

It just seems to me so counterintuitive that you're trying to grow the economy and then, at the same time, you're talking from the other side of your mouth and saying we're cutting back all of these options that hurt our students and the potential of our students to get a quality education and not really fulfilling the overall needs of colleges and universities. It seems as though colleges and universities are not in the forefront of any support, whether it's from the secretary of education or from the administration in Washington.

SIMON: Jose Adames is president of El Centro College in Dallas. Thanks so much for being with us, sir.

ADAMES: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.