April 15, 2012

Student Organizations May Face New Route to Funding

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After several student organizations were embittered by substantial budget cuts, the Student Assembly Finance Commission is making strides to repair what many consider a broken system of student funding.

Upon receiving an unexpectedly high volume of requests for funding in fall 2011, the SAFC was forced to slash the maximum level of funding a group could receive by nearly 50 percent. Complaints from student leaders about inadequate funds led to the SAFC’s proposal on Thursday to implement a new system that would place student groups in a tiered system with six levels of funding.

“The biggest problem is that there is not [currently] a strategic allocation of funds, because every group can get the same [amount] no matter what they do [or] how much they spend,” said Larry Kogos ’13, co-chair of the SAFC, which is responsible for determining the funding allocation for student organizations. “Hopefully, this would be a more strategic allocation, in the sense that groups that actually need the most money can get the most money.”

Under the current system — which sets a single, uniform cap for all SAFC-funded organizations — “the incentive for a group is to apply for as much money as possible,” said Roneal Desai ’13, SAFC liaison to the S.A.

Club sports teams in particular raised concerns about the allocation process after their budget was slashed from $10,000 to $5,000 last semester, The Sun reported in October.

“Groups were kind of blindsided this year because caps were cut in half. SAFC caps have been going lower and lower. Many groups have been crippled … they can’t hold practices, can’t have events,” Kogos said. “Our revenue stream, in terms of byline funding, has only been increased by a little bit, so that alone is not going to be enough to fix the issue.”

Under the current funding guidelines, about 20 percent of allocated funds go unspent each year, according to Desai. He added that these unspent funds — amounting to about $200,000 each year — rollover from year to year and are essentially wasted resources.

“If there are $200,000 unspent every year, then that money is never used by students, even though we have groups who want more money,” Desai said. “The new system solves this by giving higher caps to groups that historically spend their funds.”

Adam Nicoletti, vice president of finance for the S.A., called clubs that request more money than they actually spend some of the “worst offenders” in contributing to the rollover.

“Groups that ask for more money than they need bring down the cap, dragging it down for groups that need more than the cap,” he said. “Then, when they don’t even spend all of the money they’re given, those funds roll over and go to waste.”

According to the proposal, groups would become eligible to move between tiers at the end of each academic year. The SAFC would determine in the spring if an organization should move up, move down or remain in its current tier for the following year.

Tier mobility would be based on objective criteria designed to assess how much money a group needs and how effectively they tend to spend the money they are allocated, Nicoletti said. He added that re-evaluating tier placement each year would ensure that funds could be directed to groups that need it the most.

According to Brandon Coulter ’13, co-chair of the SAFC, such a system would also be the driving factor behind incentivizing student groups to become more financially responsible.

“We restructured this system to hold treasurers accountable and to be as accurate and as morally just in what they’re asking for on a semester-by-semester basis,” Coulter said.

Under the tier system, Desai added, “the incentive is to be as efficient with your money as possible. So you want to apply for exactly as much as you need; otherwise, if that money goes unspent, you could move down a tier.”

Groups would initially be placed into tiers based on the efficiency of their spending over the last three years, beginning in fall 2008, according to the proposal.

“No group will be placed in a tier such that they are eligible for less money than they have spent in their [highest-spending] semester over the last few years,” Desai said.

He added that organizations applying for funding for the first time in fall 2012 would automatically fall into the lowest tier.

The changes require the S.A.’s approval before the SAFC can implement them in the fall, according to Nicoletti. He said the proposal will likely come to a vote within the next few weeks.

S.A. President Natalie Raps ’12 expressed optimism that the S.A. will approve the new guidelines, which she said will give the SAFC “more flexibility” to ensure student groups receive the money they need.

However, she emphasized the importance of soliciting feedback from the student body before approving major changes to the system.

“I want to make sure that we get as much of the student voice … as possible before we come to vote,” Raps said. “Communication is key before the changes are enacted.”

Sylvia Rusnak contributed reporting to this article.

Original Author: Rebecca Harris