By: Nick Bergeman ~Staff Writer~
On the list of items on the bill from the Bursar’s Office, it is no surprise that the cost of tuition usually overshadows the other items. However, tucked neatly into the list for undergraduate students is a small $115 per semester charge called the “Student Activity Fee.”
The fee may be easy to miss, but that miniscule fee may the reason that many undergraduate students enjoy their college experience.
The tiny activity fee funds every club, most on-campus events and just about every free non-academic service provided for students. Everything from French Club to the airport shuttle to Student Activities Committee events to Club Fencing to the Black Student Association to the Newswire exists because every student pays that $115.
Financial support for student organizations from the university is not new, but the activity fee is a fairly recent development. Prior to 2011, a miniscule percentage of each student’s tuition, which was about even to the current amount, was given to Student Government Association (SGA) to distribute for student services and clubs. After being approved by the University Planning and Resourcing Council, the activities fee became an independent source of funding for student activities.
A large part of the reason that the fee was established was to create a protected manner to provide funding for student activities. Dustin Lewis, associate director of student involvement, said, “Part of the trust the university had with creating the activity fee was that it would entirely go back to the students.” The actual allocation of that money is where the matter gets more complicated.
The money starts at the Office of Student Involvement, where it begins its journey back to the students. Before the bulk of the money is distributed by SGA, some of it is skimmed and put toward two funds. The first provides the salary of an employee in the Office of Student Involvement, who oversees club activities and provides support to student activities.
The second pays “student leadership grants,” according to senior director of student involvement Leah Busam Klenowski. These include grants for the SGA executives, the student rights representative and student conduct liaison, among other positions, in payment for the relatively large number of hours they work.
After those are deducted, the rest of the funds is sent to SGA to create a budget for the year. This process begins with clubs and organizations submitting a proposed budget for the next year to SGA’s Student Organizations Committee (SOC). SOC then reviews the budget and meets with officers from the individual clubs to discuss why they should be given more, the same or less money than they had been given the year before.
Based on its findings, SOC makes a recommendation and report for the SGA executives to create the budget. The budget for the following year is a collaboration between the outgoing and incoming SGA executives.
Current SGA President Andrew Redd said that the current budget was crafted over the course of two weeks. That budget broke up $860,000 to more than a hundred different clubs and services for the year, including internal uses for SGA, with $739,000 sent to student organizations. The budget is then sent to the office of student involvement to approve before being sent to the senate for a final vote. If the budget is passed, it becomes final for the next year.
Every year, the budget changes with what activities the clubs have planned for the next year. Redd explained that if a club was given $5000 in one year and only used $3000, but provides concrete reasons for why they would use all $5000 the next year, then they will probably still receive all $5000.
“The challenge is to give the money to the clubs that need it the most, and who will actually use it, of course,” Redd said. When the budget design is complete, the students have their money back, though it is given back to them in a fractured manner.
“The student activity fee is an investment that will go directly to students,” Klenowski said. With this investment, the students place their trust in their SGA representatives to fairly distribute the funds, according to the best interests of their fellow students.