Dec. 08, 2014
Along with tuition and fees, students every semester pay a Student Activity Fee. This $14 fee, $7 during summer semester, funds the Student Government Association and student clubs and organizations.
Some semesters there is a surplus. This money was added to a growing account, which until earlier this year was referred to as the Plant Fund.
The fund totals more than $63,000 of unspent, generally overlooked, student fee money.
Chen Zhao, the SGA director of finance, directed all questions regarding the fund to Sabrina Wienholtz, the SGA faculty advisor.
Weinholtz explained the Plant Fund money has been returned to the Student Activity Fee fund, but the surplus still exists.
“I think it’s fair to be concerned about where your student fee money is going,” said Wienholtz. “I think it’s important to know the answers to that.”
In the past, money from the surplus has been used to fund events, renovations and address requests from student clubs.
According to the SGA’s Year in Review August 2013 – May 2014 , money from the surplus was allocated to one student club to present research, another to begin building a memorial art project and a third to participate in a film project with alumni. Amounts were not provided.
Plant Fund money was also used to “purchase lockers for students to use while in the Simulation Lab at University Hall.”
“The rationale at the time was that these students can’t participate in activities because they have nowhere to put their stuff,” said Wienholtz.
When asked what is preventing other departments from applying for funding from the surplus, Wienholtz said, “I think that’s a valid concern.”
“The argument has to come back to activities,” she said.
SGA’s current concern is how to reduce the existing surplus. “There’s a few different ideas and until they get passed and approved by all senators, there’s nothing specific we have,” said Caytes Liley, SGA vice president. “Everything kind of changes day to day.”
He indicated there have been talks to use some of the surplus to fund programs and events on campus, though he did not provide specifics, besides disc golf.
“The biggest group that we can help probably is club spots,” said Courtney Eldred, SGA justice. “I think this would be a great way to get them more funding, in a more sustainable way.”
“It is a lot of money, and I think it should be used for good, and for the right things […] instead of just wasted on nonsense,” said Eldred.
While there may be differing opinions on how to allocate the surplus, there seem to be no shortage of uses for it.
“There’s hundreds of ways we can spend the money,” said Liley. “We’re trying to find ways that will benefit the future, without students having to pay extra.”
It’d be nice to have a ballot initiative for students to take a vote,” said Liley.
An SGA bill is needed to gain access to Student Activity Fee money.
“The only way to allocate money from the Student Activity Fee [fund] is to go through the SGA Senate, and that’s through a bill,” said Wienholtz. “A student can write a bill, an SGA member can write a bill, but you do need the sponsorship of someone in student government to get it on the agenda.”
Another concern for SGA is how to avoid such a large surplus in the future.
“Part of what SGA is working on right now is creating processes that support adjusting their budgets in a more realtime way so that those sorts of accumulations don’t occur,” said Wienholtz.
Reasons for an annual increase in the surplus range from the SGA’s budget differing from projections to student organizations and clubs returning money at the end of the year.
SGA leadership expects to have a long term solution in place before the end of their elected terms. “We hope to have a model that will prevent rapid growth of the Student Activity Fee fund by April,” said Liley.
Liley said one proposed step includes reassessing the SGA budget, and funds available for student clubs, during the semester after census date. Currently, their budget is determined once a fiscal year, and is based off projections from the previous year.
Another idea Liley presented was capping the available Student Activity Fee fund, but did not provide specifics on how that would work.
“We need to do better,” said Liley. “The only way to do that is to change the system.”