OPINION: Students need relief, too


FILE-A clerk picks up items for customer orders at the Amazon Prime warehouse in New York in this Dec. 20, 2017 photo. Amazon announced it has narrowed down the list for potential sites for a second headquarters in 20 U.S. and Canadian cities. (Mark Lennihan | AP)

A recent study conducted by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) found that at least 55 of America’s largest corporations — including groups like FedEx, Michaels and Nike — paid zero dollars in federal taxes on 2020 profits.

Yet, they received $3.5 billion in tax refunds.

On top of that, in April of last year when the Covid-19 pandemic reached its first peak, the government provided $500 billion in emergency aid to large corporations. The awarded relief did not guarantee job preservation, nor did it place a cap on executive pay.

What relief was the struggling college student eligible for? A CARES act check, a brief pause on student loan payments with a false promise that credit score would not be affected and three stimulus checks, though not everyone was eligible to receive all three. Those claimed as dependents on someone else’s tax return didn’t qualify for the first two checks. 

Amid both a public health and economic crisis, the government prioritized corporate relief over student relief. We shouldn’t be shocked, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be angry. This was a longstanding issue even before the pandemic. 

“Many higher ed institutions, both for-profit and not-for-profit, didn’t deliver on their promise,” said Robert Kallen, clinical professor of economics at DePaul’s Driehaus College of Business. “They imply that if you get a degree, you’re going to get to be gainfully employed, you’re going to get a good education.”

For generations, students have been pushed to pursue higher education as a means of guaranteed financial stability and ascension up the social ladder. Instead, as administrative expenses grew, government funding diminished, leading to increases in college tuition. 

The financial burden fell on students. They became prisoners of their own education.

In 2021, some 45 million Americans collectively hold $1.71 trillion in student debt. Roughly 70 percent of college students graduate with an average debt of $30,000 in both private and federal loans. Student debt outweighs any other kind of debt, except mortgages.   

Quinn White

“The idea of college is to[prepare] you for your career for the rest of your life,” said Dilpreet Kaur, a DePaul student and campaign coordinator for Illinois Public Interest Research Group.

Kaur said she believes that if you enter the real world in crippling debt, you’ve essentially been set up for failure.

Higher education relies on a destructive system of funding built on student loans. In recent decades, universities have watched idly as students crumpled beneath this weight. However, on the side of corporations, relief and tax breaks come at a consistent pace. 

According to The Washington Post, more than half of last year’s $4 trillion economic relief effort went to businesses and corporations. 

Companies unaffected by the pandemic were awarded $651 billion in tax breaks the article said. 

“If you’ve got a tax system out there, you’re always going to have things that count as deductible or credits, it’s just how the system works because people think it’s advantageous to do it that way — that is people in Congress,” said Gregory Mark, a corporate law professor at DePaul’s College of Law.

Pandemic or not, large corporations are continuously awarded relief. In many instances, they avoid paying taxes altogether. 

In 2017, a report by the ITEP found that between 2008 and 2015, 258 corporations paid an effective federal income tax rate of 21.2 percent the federal tax rate was 35 percent.

Over the eight-year period, 18 of the corporations paid no federal income tax.

Why is it that Congress members are likely to support and swiftly approve corporate relief over other issues like student relief?

Corporations fund election campaigns; they help get people elected. 

“If you’re a Congress member or senator, you’re receiving X amount of dollars from that corporation,” Kallen said. “Obviously, there’s the quid pro quo or an exchange that has to occur. Are you going to bite the hand that feeds you?”

AT&T Inc., Comcast Corp. and American Bankers Association (ABA) were among some of the top political action committee donors during the 2020 election cycle. The ABA gave a maximum of $20,000 to several GOP members’ campaigns.

When companies play a significant role in which lawmakers get elected, laws reflect the interests of those corporations. 

This doesn’t just affect college students, they’re just the first to be cast aside. When laws safeguard the faceless, multi-billion dollar companies they cease to aid those most in need of protection, the people. 

The financial crisis faced by students did not happen abruptly. According to U.S. News, the average tuition and fees at private universities jumped 144 percent in the last 20 years. Countless administrations acknowledged this problem, promised to fix it and didn’t.

Even now, the current administration is hesitant on how to address the student loan crisis. President Joe Biden would prefer Congress craft the legislation.

“Congress and the executive branch have been very slow in reacting and addressing the needs to make the next generation’s life better,” Kallen said.

It’s high time the government finds a balance between corporate and student relief. Students can no longer bear the financial repercussions of a system that failed them. Students need a break.