A liberal arts college in New York helps incarcerated individuals at the local correctional facility obtain a bachelor’s degree through a partnership with the Hudson Link for Higher Education. This education sets them up to succeed after their release and reduces the risk of recidivism to just 4 percent versus the national average of 67 percent.
In Alabama, a former professional football player turned sports medicine resident formed a ministry called RANSOM (Radical Athlete and Student Oasis Ministry) to work with at-risk youths through football camps designed to enhance youths in faith, academics and athletics.
Local organizations like these are vitally important to their communities because they meet the unique needs of their neighbors and friends. And they depend on charitable donations to survive.
I chose these two specific examples of organizations founded by graduates of Nyack College and Samford University, because they are both institutions connected to the higher education association where I am president, the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. But there are countless other organizations like these, all of which depend on gifts — whether $5 or $500 a month — from individuals who donate to the causes that matter most to them. When it’s added up, this support makes a significant difference not just for the organization in question but an entire community.
Unfortunately, the tax legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and under consideration by the U.S. Senate would undermine the ability of numerous organizations to fulfill their missions, in part by disincentivizing charitable giving.
We seek to graduate committed and compassionate citizens who want to engage deeply in this world, not in spite of their faith, but because of their faith. Our alumni are engaged citizens who volunteer in their communities, invest in philanthropy and do small things with great love. We teach our students to contribute to the common good — even at a cost to themselves — out of a love for Jesus Christ and for the world around them.
Even though it maintains the income tax charitable deduction, doubling the standard deduction will leave fewer people able to claim their charitable gifts. This would lead taxpayers to donate less to charity — about $12-20 billion less per year, according to the Tax Policy Center. The effects of this will be felt throughout the charitable sector, including by nonprofit institutions of higher education.
Colleges and universities will be severely restricted in their ability to provide scholarship aid to the neediest students. Our institutions serve significant numbers of first-generation and low-income students, and donations to scholarship funds help make college affordable and accessible to all. In fact, on average, our schools provide institutional aid that is more than double the amount of money a student receives in federal grants. This is only possible because of donations to scholarship funds.
Our donors take great joy in contributing to the education of our students because they know that there is no greater factor that will change the trajectory of someone’s life. A college graduate earns 67 percent more than a high school graduate, enabling them to provide for their family and also contribute more to the tax base. Not everyone wants to or needs to go to college. But, for those who do, money should not be the only obstacle standing in their way. It would be terribly short-sighted for the government to cut private giving only to have to raise taxes later to address these and other needs through more governmental programs.
The income tax charitable deduction celebrated its 100th anniversary this year. First put into place in 1917, it has played a great role in ensuring that the private, civic sector is strong and that citizens can rely on and help one another, instead of relying solely on the government.
Congress’ effort to reform taxes has created a real opportunity for legislators to develop this important concept even further through the Universal Charitable Giving Act. Introduced by Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., in the House and Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., in the Senate, the UCGA would ensure that every taxpayer, not only the estimated 5 percent who will likely still itemize under the current proposal, can continue to deduct their charitable giving. The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy has predicted that this would actually increase donations overall.
We teach our students that their education is not only for their own good, but that it also equips them to serve the common good. Congress should not undermine this. Instead, we call on Congress to affirm the values of empathy and generosity that we teach our students by passing the Universal Charitable Giving Act.
Editor's note: This article has been revised by the author to reflect recent changes to the tax legislation currently being debated in Congress.
Shirley V. Hoogstra is the president of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.