October 28, 2012

Student Organizations React to Tiered SAFC Funding

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After several consecutive years in which students were angered by what they called unfair funding practices, the Student Assembly Finance Commission has implemented a new system this fall for allocating funding to student organizations.

In recent years, campus groups have criticized the SAFC for what they said was a lack of transparency, a difficult application process and untenable budget cuts. In response, the SAFC created a tiered system to ameliorate the funding application process for student groups.

Under the new system, organizations are placed into tiers, or levels, of funding allocations based on how efficiently they spent money in the past. Each tier has its own funding cap — or the maximum amount of money any club within that level can receive in a given semester.

With the SAFC’s new funding system, groups were able to receive up to $1,000, $1,750, $2,500, $3,250 or $4,000 this fall, depending on what tier they were placed in. The changes represent an increase in funding from last fall, when organizations were able to receive a maximum of $2,700.

The new funding system will also aim to reduce unspent funds, SAFC members said.

Under the old system, all student organizations were capped at the same upper limit — a practice that left some groups underfunded and some with more money than they could spend, according to Roneal Desai ’13, vice president of finance for the S.A.

“Basically, the previous incentive of an SAFC group was [to] apply for as much as you can, get as much as you can and then spend whatever you need,” leaving a portion of some clubs’ budgets unspent, Desai said.

Consequently, more than 20 percent of allocated funds — about $200,000 — went unspent each year. Money that is allocated to clubs and is unspent, called rollover funds, is essentially wasted resources, according to Desai.

The tier system, in response, was designed to reduce rollover by rewarding groups that spent wisely, according to Matthew Gruber ’13, co-chair of the SAFC.

“This year, when we placed groups into tiers, we did so based entirely on their past spending. We didn’t care what kind of group you were or what the purpose of your organization was. We simply cared how much money you spent from the SAFC [in the past],” Gruber said.

For this semester, the 383 organizations that applied for funding were sorted into five of the six tiers, according to Gruber. The top tier was left vacant and will be reserved in the future for clubs that not only use funding effectively but also “do more for our community,” he said — winning a national competition, for instance, or providing a unique resource.

According to Gruber, before the SAFC made changes to its system, it struggled to provide larger clubs with the amount they needed.

“Inevitably, the amount of funds requested would be way higher than what we could give out in a semester,” he said.

After the latest round of budgets were released last month, student leaders of organizations in both higher and lower tiers say they have been generally pleased with the new system.

“We received all the funding we requested, and the tier we were placed in was sufficient for our needs,” said Shantel Maharaj ’14, president of the Teszia Belly Dancing Troupe, a smaller organization on campus.

Elizabeth Nolan ’13, president of Women’s Club Soccer, said the previous funding system, which substantially diminished the budget of club sports teams, was a detriment to her organization.

In Fall 2011, when the SAFC decided to give clubs who make mistakes on their applications a second chance to apply for funding, the number of organizations that qualified increased substantially — resulting in dramatic budget cuts across the board. For club sports, funding was cut in half from about $10,000 to $5,000 per year last spring.

“Last year was awful when the new changes were so abrupt. Our funding was cut by over 50 percent,” Nolan said. “Thankfully, we had saved up on team dues from the previous years; otherwise, we likely would not have been able to afford [to participate in] the annual national tournament.”

This semester, club sports fall into the highest available tier — guaranteeing their ability to secure up to $4,000 per semester, compared to the approximately $2,700 per semester they received last year.

Nolan said the changes the SAFC has made to the funding process “have already benefited” her organization — but acknowledged that her satisfaction could be attributed to her club’s placement in the second tier.

But even officers of new clubs — all organizations applying for SAFC funding for the first time are automatically placed in the lowest tier — expressed approval for the tiered system.

For instance, Shuangyi Hou ’13, president of the Every1 Campaign, said her group received funding that was “absolutely adequate to cover our first-semester needs.”

Original Author: Sarah Sassoon