November 20, 2017
The Honorable Rob Portman
United States Senate
448 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Portman,
Higher education is one of Ohio’s greatest assets. Our private colleges and public universities are talent importers, bringing students from across the world to our state to stand alongside Ohio students in preparing for their professional lives. This influx of intellectual capital is the engine of growth for our state, and the real capital and local economic investment of our institutions is an anchor to hundreds of Ohio villages, towns and cities.
We write to ask you to safeguard this asset and join us in opposing pending congressional legislation that will tax the earnings of private college and university endowments. The proposed 1.4% excise tax on endowments will have a profound effect on our institutions, all of which have enrollments ranging from 1,650 to 2,900 students and modest endowments that, in some cases, will be subject to the $250,000-per-student taxation threshold. Thousands of Ohio students attend college every year at our institutions because of the financial aid our endowments provide, and taxing earnings reduces our ability to keep education affordable for students who need and deserve it. Singling out private colleges also puts small Ohio institutions at an unfair competitive advantage with public institutions whose endowments remain untouched by this provision.
The new legislation also contradicts basic principles that have governed philanthropy throughout American history. The tax will require private colleges to shift resources, acquired through charitable giving, from the mission our donors supported to federal government expenditures. Further, it misapplies a tax model intended to monitor closely-held foundations who derive their support and control from a few sources. The endowments of private colleges are built on thousands of gifts made over many years, overseen by a broadly representational governance structure. American philanthropy is crucial to a healthy and functioning democracy; this tax distorts these principles and sets a dangerous precedent.
We also ask your support in opposing the proposed taxation on graduate student tuition waivers. Many of our students pursue graduate education, often with very limited family resources. Propelling students to contribute to our nation’s research excellence is one of the most powerful things we do. The proposed legislation will create a significant barrier to graduate school for many of our students, who have worked so hard and achieved so much, including earning admission to excellent programs for continued study after graduation. The impact of this legislation will be profound on these students and on America’s ability to continue as a world leader in innovation and scientific research.
Ohio’s private colleges and universities are ladders for the educational and economic advancement for our students and engines for innovation for our nation. The proposed tax on endowments and graduate student waivers jeopardizes this legacy of excellence. We urge you to keep the doors of opportunity and progress open in Ohio by opposing them.
Carmen Twillie Ambar, President
Oberlin College and Conservatory
Sarah Bolton, President
The College of Wooster
Sean Decatur, President
Rock Jones, President
Ohio Wesleyan University
Adam Weinberg, President