What Would You Do with $1.5 Million?

This article is part of the Review’s Student Finance Committee column. In an effort to increase communication and transparency, SFC members will provide personal perspectives and updates on the goings-on of the committee.

If you had $1.5 million to allocate to services and activities on campus, how would you spend it? Would you throw a music festival in Tappan Square? Start a community garden in South Bowl? Host a workshop or lecture series? Renovate the Student Union building? Or maybe initiate a community service project?

This question is not hypothetical, but a literal scenario that the student body has the opportunity to answer each year with the Student Activity Fund. Included in each student’s annual tuition is a $428 student activity fee; the aggregate of these fees, coupled with unspent funds from the previous year, constitute the SAF.

The Student Finance Committee allocates the SAF to support a range of student organizations, programs, activities, and services for the student body throughout the year. In a nutshell, SAF is a fund that is collected from and run by students to serve the entire student body, so it is imperative that we have as many students participating in allocation processes and decisions as possible.
Currently, SFC is restructuring and reviewing its policies to improve allocation efficiency and better serve the student body. One of the key barriers to achieving this goal is that many students are unaware that the SAF is an available resource, nor do they understand how to access it.

Thus, students miss out on a key resource that gives them financial agency in creating opportunities to shape their Oberlin experience. In reality, any and every student is eligible to receive funds from the SAF, and there are two major ways to do this.

The first is through ad hoc allocations, which are made to individual events or programs that receive the allocation to host the event in the same fiscal year that the request is submitted. Any individual or student organization can request funds to host a program or event through ad hoc, working with a member of SFC to identify the event’s costs and develop an itemized budget for the event.

The itemized budget is especially important to be fully prepared for an ad hoc request. Successful events require a lot of planning, so to ensure organizers have planned sufficiently, the committee needs as much information as possible. SFC reviews ad hoc requests weekly on Sundays from 1–5 p.m. and accepts ad hoc requests until 11:59 p.m. Thursday nights. To get help drafting a budget, feel free to meet with an SFC member as many times as necessary before submitting a request.

The second method of accessing the SAF is through the spring budgeting process, which is for chartered organizations that should discern the specific costs necessary to their group’s operations. Necessary costs include items that groups can specify or need to function; expenses should be limited to those with certain and known costs.

Historically, the primary method of funding has been through spring budgeting; this year, however, SFC is looking to make ad hoc the primary method of funding from the SAF. The past spring budgeting process created a lot of inefficient allocations. Some groups received allocations that they never touched, while others sacrificed events because they did not have enough money, and most groups hosted programming that differed vastly from the budget they requested in the spring.

I believe ad hoc is a more flexible allocation process that allows groups and individuals equal opportunity to request funding as demand for events surfaces. As SFC works to review its processes, feedback and participation from students are necessary to decide how we allocate the SAF’s $1.5 million.