If you are a Concordia student earning at least one credit, you pay a student activity fee. This year and last year, the fee was $210. Concordia has approximately 2,800 students enrolled. An average of 2,650 students pay the fee each year after discounting students who do not pay the student activity fee, or at least not the entire amount, such as December graduates, post-secondary program students, and outgoing transfer students. So the student activity fee generates about $556,500 annually. What exactly is done with over half of a million dollars each year?
By the Numbers
According to Nathalie Rinehardt, assistant director of student leadership and service and adviser of the Student Involvement Council, 28 percent, or about $155,800, is automatically deducted from the student activity fee at the beginning of each academic year for several student services, including residence hall programming, LeadNow, the MAT Bus and Doyle Cab program, the distribution of The Forum, Star Tribune and USA Today, and what you have in your hands right now, the Concordian.
The largest student organizations that have all-campus reach and initiatives receive money from the student activity fee fund next. These major student organizations include Student Government Association, Campus Entertainment Commission, Campus Service Commission, Campus Ministry Commission and the Homecoming and Orientation committees. These organizations receive 58 percent, or about $320,750.
All of these programs submit a budget to the Student Involvement Council (SIC) and the Student Affairs Committee the spring prior to be approved. Their percentage includes stipends for the student leaders of SGA, CEC, CSC, and CMC, and some smaller student organizations benefit from the major organization’s budget. For example, several organizations receive funding from CMC’s budget and for an event like Day of Reckoning, which is a collaborative effort between SGA and other student organizations, SGA’s budget pays for the event.
The remainder of the student activity fee fund, 14 percent, or approximately $77,900, is allocated to the 108 registered student organizations on campus.
Rinehardt said approximately 80 student organizations were able to benefit from the student activity fee this year.
“For 80 of them to benefit directly, that’s a pretty healthy number,” she said.
The SIC has been able to allocate 75 percent of what organizations requested on average. Rinehardt said there is no possible way that every student organization can receive all 100 percent of what they requested because the SIC has had double the dollar amount in requests than what they had to allocate.
The Allocation Process
Student organizations must submit a budget allocation request to the SIC in order to receive any money for their organization.
Junior Peace Eneh, chair of the SIC, said the biggest budget request come at the beginning of each semester. She reviews all requests before the council meets with Rinehardt to determine if there is a detailed, clear explanation for each request. Eneh contacts those student organizations before the SIC budget allocation decision meetings to be certain she understands the purposes of their requests.
“We try to make the council as diverse is possible so we have different opinions from different groups on campus,” Eneh said. “At least one person on the council might know something about the group and will help explain to the council what this group does.”
Eneh said the budget allocation decision meetings can take some time because student organizations have a vast variety of financial needs and the SIC follows a set of guidelines when making their decisions.
“We try to talk about it a lot and we try to be as fair possible,” she said. “We try to approach it on an individual basis. Some requests are confusing, but others are pretty straight-forward.”
Eneh said the SIC said extensive budget research by the student organization helps illustrate that they are requesting things they need and not excess money.
Senior Betsy Dehmer, the student business office treasurer for the past three years, works with student organizations and serves as an intermediary between them and the administrative business office. She attends SIC budget allocation meetings in an adviser role by answering any questions members have and explaining what organizations have spent in the past and what’s typical for them to request each year.
Dehmer said the student activity fee fund requests vary widely. Some student organizations will come forward and only request $50 for supplies in the Parke Student Leadership Center, while other organizations will request thousands of dollars for travel to a destination across the country.
Rinehardt said the SIC considers how the organization’s event, activity, or trip will benefit the campus community and how many students it will affect. The SIC does disperse student activity fee money for activities that benefit a small number of students if the organization can explain how their experiences can be shared and help the organization grow.
Staying in the Black
Two new funds were added to the student activity fee fund in recent years. The special project reserve fund was recently approved by the Student Affairs Committee this year. Any money allocated to student organizations that is not spent by the end of the fiscal year in April is put into the reserve fund. Rinehardt said since the reserve fund is so new, there is currently no allocation process in place yet, but there will be and it is expected to be used for special projects and initiatives.
The emergency reserve fund was established after the 2005-06 academic year and contains 10 percent of student activity fee operating costs in order to be fiscally responsible, Rinehardt said. In 2005-06 the student activity fee fund dropped into the red because the fee had not been increased for many years, but there was an increase of student organizations to support and more programming that was happening.
“We’ve been kind of making up for it ever since then,” Rinehardt said. “Up until this year, we didn’t even have enough money to put in a reserve fund. We’re in a much better place right now.”
Dehmer agrees, although she wasn’t sure about this year a few weeks ago.
Several student organizations that had not yet spent their allocation received an e-mail from Dehmer in January that stated the SIC has student organizations in need of funding, but there was no longer any funding to offer them. The SIC asked these organizations if they are still planning on using their funding, and if not, to let Dehmer know as soon as possible.
However, the e-mail was the result of a false alarm and SIC will be OK this year as far as money available to allocate.
“It turns out we didn’t need that money back from other student organizations,” Dehmer said. “But originally when we had estimated, it looked like we weren’t going to have enough so that’s why we did check.”
Student Organization Satisfaction
Rinehardt said she sometimes hears from student organization leaders who are very thankful for their student activity fee allocation, but she hasn’t heard from leaders who are upset or confused by SIC’s budget decision.
“If they are, they’re not talking about it to me,” she said. “I think most often they are pleasantly surprised.”
Eneh said that when she informs student organizations of the SIC’s allocation, she details the SIC’s reasoning for not approving the full amount of the request and asks them to contact her with any concerns or questions and that helps student organization leaders understand the decision.
Jacob Villaverde, the senior class representative on SIC and the president of the Straight and Gay Alliance (SAGA), said he is satisfied with the student activity fee allocation SAGA received. SAGA requested allocations for travel to the 2009 and 2010 Midwest Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, and Ally College Conference (MBLGTACC), button and t-shirt fundraisers, and advertising.
“We were able to get funding to cover most of our MBLGTACC trip this year and to start our t-shirt fundraiser,” Villaverde said.
Ryan Kaiser, president and treasurer of the Gaming Club, said they plan to use their student activity fee allocation for expanding the Gaming Club’s library.
Members can use the library to check out items such as board games, rulebooks, and supplemental materials for role-playing games. Kaiser said the library is an ongoing project and they expand it with new items whenever possible. Items from the Gaming Club’s library are also used in their annual Game-A-Thon event.
Kaiser said while the Gaming Club did not receive as much as was requested, he knew that would be the case when the budget list was submitted and he is happy with the amount the Gaming Club received.
“Most of us felt that what the council awarded us in terms of funding seems fair and it is approximately the same as what we’ve received in previous years, too,” he said. “They seemed to have reasonable expectations for how we were to spend it.”
More Bang for Your Buck
Rinehardt, Eneh, and Dehmer all emphasized that students need to get involved with the student organizations on-campus in order to see the money they pay into the student activity fee fund.
“We encourage students to get involved because we know this is their money, and the more they are involved in student organizations, the more they can benefit from their money,” Eneh said. “They already should all benefit at some point from the CEC, CSC, and those other major organizations that put on events on campus, but we encourage them to get involved beyond that.”
Rinehardt recommends students choose one or two organizations that are meaningful to them to dedicate their time to, rather than overextending themselves and becoming burnt-out.
“We have a very healthy campus life here,” she said. “It’s easy to become blinded by posters, Facebook groups, invitations, and e-mails about going to events or participating in activities, but it’s really in their best interest to take advantage of some of those opportunities.”
Marisa Paulson is a senior and the news & features editor of The Concordian, although she still writes when she can. She plans to attend the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in fall 2011.