Last December, the Student Assembly passed a resolution to raise the student activity fee — a charge that pays for student-run organizations — by $97.
But in February, President Martha Pollack adjusted the student activity fee hike to $75 instead. Under Pollack’s changes, increases would have been from $234 to $274 for the 2020 to 2021 academic year, then to $309 the following year.
Since COVID-19 has put organizational funding and undergraduates’ wallets in jeopardy, the S.A. has been working to reduce the burden on students while keeping more than 1,000 student organizations afloat.
An August S.A. resolution aimed at COVID-19 relief then further reduced the student activity fee. The student activity fee for the current academic year now sits at $206 per undergraduate student — less than last year’s sum of $234.
“When the pandemic happened, a lot of things changed,” said Uche Chukwukere ‘21, S.A. vice president of finance. “A lot of students were asking for refunds or rebates or reductions in the prices of everything across campus: tuition, meal plans, housing, things of that nature.”
The decision to reduce the student activity fee in August received little fanfare, despite massive budget cuts for the S.A. and its 29 other byline organizations, which are funded directly through the student activity fee.
“We completely defunded ourselves,” Chukwukere said. “We made a decision that we’re going to reduce the student activity fee and give a refund, but the way we did that is that we asked all the byline funded organizations ‘Who is willing to volunteer to take a cut from their budget from what they were originally gonna be appropriated?’”
A majority of the byline funded organizations were willing to take the hit, according to an Aug. 8 resolution calling for the COVID-related student activity fee reduction. The S.A. defunded itself by 100 percent; 20 of the 29 bylined organizations followed the assembly’s lead, voluntarily reducing their student activity fee appropriations anywhere from 13.3 percent to as high as 87 percent.
While financial aid on the Cornell Student Center will continue to show a student activity fee of $274, Chukwukere said students would only see a charge of $103 per semester on their Bursar accounts.
The S.A. appropriations committee, which is in charge of the student activity fee, could begin addressing the possibility of a further reduction in the activity fee as early as next week, according to Chukwukere.
“[The planned student activity fee increases] are put on hold,” Chukwukere said. “We’re reading the room right now and the general consensus is we don’t want to burden students more. So we’re taking a look at how the general population feels about things and whether or not the money that will be allocated to organizations will be able to be used at full capacity.”