Do Colleges Pay Taxes? A Detailed Look At College And University Tax Status

The tax status of colleges and universities is a complex issue that many people wonder about. If you’ve ever asked yourself ‘Do colleges pay taxes? ‘, you’re not alone. While some colleges are exempt from certain taxes, they often do pay other types of taxes.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the different tax obligations and exemptions for colleges and universities in order to answer the question definitively.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Colleges and universities generally do not pay income taxes but often pay property taxes and other taxes. Most are considered tax-exempt nonprofit organizations under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Tax Exemption for Colleges and Universities

Colleges and universities, as nonprofit educational institutions, enjoy tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. This means that they are exempt from paying federal income taxes on their earnings.

However, it is important to note that not all aspects of a college or university’s operations are tax exempt, and there are specific requirements that must be met in order to qualify for this status.

501(c)(3) Tax Exempt Status

The 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status is granted to organizations that are organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, literary, or educational purposes. In the case of colleges and universities, their primary purpose is educational, which makes them eligible for this tax exemption.

Requirements for 501(c)(3) Status

In order to qualify for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, colleges and universities must meet certain requirements set forth by the IRS. These requirements include:

  • Operating exclusively for educational purposes
  • Not distributing any net earnings to individuals or shareholders
  • Not engaging in any substantial lobbying activities
  • Not participating in any political campaigns

By meeting these requirements, colleges and universities can maintain their tax-exempt status and enjoy the associated benefits.

Tax Benefits of 501(c)(3) Status

One of the main benefits of 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status for colleges and universities is that they are exempt from paying federal income taxes on their earnings. This allows them to allocate more resources towards their educational mission and provide better services to their students.

Additionally, being tax exempt can make these institutions more attractive to donors, as contributions made to tax-exempt organizations are generally tax-deductible for the donors. This can result in increased philanthropic support for colleges and universities, enabling them to fund scholarships, research initiatives, and other important projects.

It is worth noting that while colleges and universities are tax exempt at the federal level, they may still be subject to certain state and local taxes. Each state has its own regulations regarding the tax treatment of educational institutions, so it is important for colleges and universities to be aware of and comply with these requirements.

For more information on the tax exemption for colleges and universities, you can visit the IRS website.

Taxes Colleges and Universities Pay

When it comes to taxes, colleges and universities have a unique status. While they are largely exempt from federal income taxes, there are several types of taxes that they do pay. Let’s take a closer look at the taxes colleges and universities are responsible for.

Property Taxes

Colleges and universities, like other property owners, are subject to property taxes. However, the extent of their tax liability varies by state and can depend on factors such as the purpose of the property and its use.

Some states exempt educational institutions from property taxes, while others may impose property taxes on certain types of properties owned by colleges and universities.

Sales Taxes

Colleges and universities are generally exempt from paying sales taxes on purchases made for educational purposes. However, when it comes to sales of goods and services unrelated to their educational mission, such as merchandise sold at campus stores or tickets to sporting events, they may be required to collect and remit sales taxes.

Payroll Taxes

Colleges and universities are not exempt from payroll taxes. Just like any other employer, they are responsible for withholding and paying Social Security, Medicare, and federal income taxes from their employees’ wages. Additionally, they may be subject to state payroll taxes, which vary by state.

Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT)

One type of tax that colleges and universities may be subject to is the Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT). This tax applies to income generated from activities that are unrelated to their educational mission.

For example, if a college or university operates a bookstore or rents out facilities for non-educational purposes, the income from these activities may be subject to UBIT.

For more information on the tax status of colleges and universities, you can visit the IRS website or consult a tax professional familiar with the regulations specific to educational institutions.

Other Tax Considerations for Colleges and Universities

Tax-Exempt Bonds

One of the major tax benefits available to colleges and universities is the ability to issue tax-exempt bonds. These bonds are used to finance various projects such as construction of new buildings, renovation of existing facilities, or expansion of campus infrastructure.

By issuing tax-exempt bonds, educational institutions can access lower interest rates and save on borrowing costs. The interest earned by bondholders is also exempt from federal income taxes, making it an attractive investment option for individuals and organizations.

It is important to note that the issuance of tax-exempt bonds comes with certain requirements and restrictions. Educational institutions must comply with federal regulations and use the proceeds from these bonds for qualified purposes.

Failure to meet these requirements can result in the loss of tax-exempt status and potential penalties.

Endowment Taxes

Endowments are an essential source of funding for colleges and universities. These funds, often consisting of donations and investments, provide financial support for scholarships, research programs, and other institutional needs.

While endowments themselves are generally tax-exempt, there have been discussions and proposals regarding the taxation of large endowments in recent years.

Some argue that taxing endowments above a certain threshold could generate significant revenue for the government, which could be used to support other educational initiatives. However, others express concerns that such a move could have negative consequences for higher education institutions, potentially limiting their ability to provide scholarships and support academic programs.

Local Taxes

Colleges and universities, like any other property owners, are subject to local property taxes. These taxes are levied by local governments to fund public services such as schools, infrastructure, and emergency services.

However, many educational institutions are granted exemptions or partial exemptions from property taxes based on their non-profit status.

The criteria for property tax exemptions can vary depending on the jurisdiction. Some states may require educational institutions to meet specific criteria, such as providing a certain percentage of scholarships or conducting community outreach programs, in order to qualify for tax breaks.

It’s important for colleges and universities to understand the local tax regulations and comply with any requirements to maintain their tax-exempt status.

Recent Tax Policy Changes Impacting Colleges

2017 Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

The 2017 Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act had a significant impact on colleges and universities across the country. One of the major changes brought about by this legislation was the imposition of an excise tax on certain high-compensation employees of tax-exempt organizations, including colleges and universities.

Under the new law, if an employee of a nonprofit educational institution earns more than $1 million in annual compensation, the institution is required to pay a 21% excise tax on the amount exceeding $1 million.

This provision was implemented with the goal of reducing excessive executive compensation and generating additional tax revenue.

Additionally, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act limited the deductibility of certain expenses for colleges and universities. For example, institutions can no longer deduct expenses related to providing transportation fringe benefits to employees, such as parking or transit passes.

This change has forced many colleges and universities to reassess their employee benefit programs and find alternative ways to provide these benefits without incurring additional tax liabilities.

State-Level Changes

In addition to federal tax policy changes, many states have also taken steps to modify their tax laws and regulations in relation to colleges and universities. These state-level changes can vary widely from state to state, but some common themes have emerged.

One area where states have been particularly active is in reevaluating the tax-exempt status of certain college and university properties. In some cases, states have sought to tax portions of campuses that are being used for commercial purposes, such as renting out facilities for conferences or events.

This has led to legal battles and debates over the extent to which colleges and universities should be exempt from property taxes.

States have also looked at ways to generate additional revenue from colleges and universities by imposing taxes on auxiliary services provided by these institutions. For example, some states have implemented taxes on student housing, parking fees, or bookstore sales.

These measures allow states to capture a portion of the economic activity generated by colleges and universities while still maintaining their tax-exempt status.

It is important for colleges and universities to stay informed about these state-level changes and work closely with legal and financial advisors to ensure compliance with applicable tax laws.

For more information on the 2017 Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, visit the official website of the Internal Revenue Service:


In summary, the answer to ‘Do colleges pay taxes?’ is nuanced. While most colleges and universities are exempt from income taxes as 501(c)(3) organizations, they still pay many other types of taxes at the federal, state, and local levels.

Understanding the different tax obligations and exemptions for higher education institutions provides helpful context around their tax status and responsibilities.

Colleges play an important role in society, but also utilize public services. Their partial tax exemptions aim to balance supporting their educational mission with requiring that they contribute revenues back to fund government activities.

However, taxes on colleges remain complex and often controversial issues that are subject to periodic reform efforts at all levels of government.

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