Taxing the Ivory Tower: Evaluating the Excise Tax on University Endowments
28 Pages Posted: 8 Jul 2021
Date Written: July 2021
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 introduced the first ever excise tax imposed on the investment income of university endowments. While it is a relatively small tax, this new law is a first step towards the exploration of taxing non-profit entities on the vast sums of wealth they hold in their endowments. In this Essay I take the new tax as a starting place for investigating the justification for tax exemption for universities and thinking through the consequences of changing our approach, both in the form of the new excise tax and possible alternatives. There remain reasons to be skeptical both about the design of the current tax and its ability to withstand the political efforts of the powerful set of universities who will be subject to it. Nonetheless, this new tax opens the door to a discussion of whether it is time to treat universities’ endowments more like the private equity funds they increasingly resemble.
Keywords: taxation, non-profits, universities, TCJA, endowments
JEL Classification: H
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation