Student Activity Fee Proposed to Increase $63 More Per Semester

Student Senate presented the Office of the Student Treasurer’s proposed increase to the student activity fee by $63.16 per semester — totaling approximately $528 per academic year — to the Board of Trustees this afternoon. The proposal comes from trends of sustained or increased student organization budgeting demand with a smaller pool of money in the Student Activity Fund, which funds student organizations.

For Fiscal Year 2018, the Student Finance Committee chartered about $1.3 million to 191 student organizations. However, the money in the SAF comes from student tuition, and enrollment was 85 students under target this year. Since the OST has not appealed to the board for an increase in the SAF the past three years, under-enrollment has strained the SFC’s ability to meet funding demand.

“Spending is up and allocations are up year after year,” Student Treasurer and College junior Elijah Aladin said. “We increase them year over year for groups that perform well, that put on good programming, and ask for more money. You’re a group that existed for a while, you ask for more money, typically we don’t give you all the money, but we give you an increase of some sort. So costs have risen, but the student activity [fee] has not risen over the past three years.”

The SFC’s ad hoc pool — a fund of SFC’s extra money to allocate on a case-by-case basis to students — has shrunk significantly in part because of the smaller revenue generated from student activity fees. According to Aladin, the pool has ranged between $150,000 to $200,000 within the past few years, but this year the fund began at about $86,000; under-enrollment decreased the pool by about $43,000.

In addition to under-enrollment, Student Senator, Student Finance Committee Co-Chair, and College senior Josh Koller said that an uptick in student government pay has taken a toll on the fund. Since senators and SFC members are not guaranteed pay and are paid hourly, budgeting on an annual basis for student government salaries can be difficult to pinpoint.

“Every year, Senate and SFC have to have their pay reaffirmed by the student body,” Koller said. “Technically if the students say, ‘We don’t think student government needs to be a paid position,’ it wouldn’t; it would be volunteer. But in recent history, students have said, ‘No, these should be paid positions,’ and I think they have good reason for that; it’s mostly accessibility stuff. If it’s not paid, you’re going to have seven people who can afford to work for free, who are probably paying $70,000 a year to be here.”

Aladin said that the last time student government pay was not reaffirmed by students was in 2014, which left the SFC with $20,000 for student wage allocations, including set stipend positions rather than hourly pay. Student government pay has been reaffirmed since, and since they have worked longer hours in recent years, Aladin said that the cost of student wages reached $60,000 last year. He added that because the student treasurers who were responsible for creating the overall student activity budget over the past three years did not appropriately allocate money for student pay, the SAF faced a $45,000 deficit.

“When I was looking through our budget versus our spending over the past couple years, I noticed we were $45,000 in the red, by an allocation standpoint,” Aladin said. “This does not mean that the Student Activity Fund was overdrawn or that it was mismanaged or that the funds weren’t there. It’s just that the particular amount was not assigned to the right [account].”

To address the deficit, the SFC requested $45,000 from the ad hoc budget, which the committee proposed to Student Senate. The proposal passed, removing the money from the $86,000 ad hoc pool to ensure that student wages could be met. SFC ad hoc sessions consequently ended two weeks earlier than anticipated this year.

Aladin said that he drafted the proposal to increase the student activity fee in light of reviewing the smaller pools of money for the SAF and ad hoc fund.

“Due to the combined factors of inflation, enrollment and retention issues, and an overall increase in the demand for student programming, the current level of student activity fee is no longer sufficient to sustain nearly 190 active chartered student organizations,” the final Senate-composed proposal stated.

Student Senate Chair and College junior Kameron Dunbar — one of the Senators presenting at today’s Board of Trustees plenary — said that it is likely that the Board will pass the proposal and that the only reason he could see the Board hesitate is because it already decided upon tuition rates, a three percent increase from tuition this year, last fall.

“The only reason I could imagine them not accepting it, either at this meeting or their summer meeting or whenever they take up that cause, would be a procedural thing — the fact that we waited too long in the year and that it’s not feasible to do it at this point,” Dunbar said. “I can’t think of any material rationale for why they wouldn’t accept it. I think the rationale submitted by the Student Treasurer is sound. It’s based off of knowledge of how we spend money and how we do things. I would think that the Board would respect that.”

Dunbar added that if the Board does not accept the proposal, student organizations could expect less money than they propose in their spring budget submissions.

“Organizations will get less money in the future because we’ll have less money to give, so students will sort of have to bear the consequences of that,” he said. “I think that areas to identify are that students are not absent from the effects of declining enrollment and financial constraint, particularly with our own resources.”

If the Board passes the student activity fee increase, Aladin said the SFC will be able to better meet the needs of students. He said that Koller, who is a member of the Winter Term Committee, cited that the SFC could help fund more Winter Term opportunities for students, for example, if the proposal passes.

“We had a program this year with Winter Term that allowed the Winter Term Committee to allocate based on financial need,” Aladin said. “One of the things that Josh [Koller] told me is that if they had more money, they could’ve helped a lot more students. It wasn’t an abhorrent amount more money, but a significant amount of money that I feel like this increase could warrant, that could help a significant amount of students that need it or helped every student that applied and needed.”

Although tuition will increase next year, lower-income students will most likely not have to pay out of pocket for the student activity fee increase if the Board passes the hike.

“Three percent of 70,000 is $2,100,” Aladin said of the three-percent tuition hike. “We would have less than five percent of that increase, so while it is significant, I don’t think that that’s the most significant part. Also, the way that the Student Activity Fund works is that only those that can afford it pay for it. The way that it financially works here, most students won’t even be paying it, so it won’t even affect most students.”