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Lame duck Senate to hold hearings on tax breaks for college tuition

For more than a year now, the leaders of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee have investigated the management and compensation practices of charities and, more recently in the wake of a scandal at American University, colleges and universities. So when word leaked out this week that the panel planned another hearing on college issues next month, the widespread assumption was that colleges were about to get more scrutiny along those lines.

Not exactly. Colleges’ tax practices are in for more examination in the months and years ahead — from the Internal Revenue Service (more on that below) — but the Senate Finance Committee seemingly has a different target in mind for its December 5 hearing: federal tax breaks for college tuition.

A Finance Committee spokeswoman confirmed late Thursday that in one of their last acts while their party still controls Congress, the panel’s Republican leaders would hold a hearing “that looks generally at whether tax breaks for tuition and universities’ efforts to help low- and middle-income families are helping in an era of ever-increasing tuition.?

That statement was generally consistent, though somewhat vaguer, than what one Washington higher education official was told the subject of the hearing would be: “a look at the relationship between federal tax provisions and tuition increases.? In other words, do federal policies that give taxpayers a deduction or credit for money they spend on college tuition — like, for instance, a proposal by the new Democratic majority in Congress to “make college tuition deductible from taxes, permanently? — lead colleges in turn to raise their tuition?

Read the entire story, from Inside Higher Education.