March 16, 2022

STUDENT ASSEMBLY VIEWPOINT | What is the Student Activity Fee and Why Must I Pay For It?

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Every semester, we see a charge on our Bursar bill titled “Student Activity Fee — Undergrad.” You may be wondering, what exactly is this mysterious charge and why do I have to pay for it? In short, the Student Activity Fee is a pool of funds that we all pay into in order to fund Cornell’s 28 undergraduate byline organizations, including the Student Activities Funding Commission, Slope Day and the Cornell University Emergency Medical Service. 

Last fall, I had the privilege of chairing the Appropriations Committee which set the Student Activity Fee for the next two years and allocated over 9 million dollars to our byline-funded organizations. To set the Student Activity Fee, the appropriations process looks a little like this: 

Every two years, each byline organization requests an allocation, ranging from 50 cents to $22, for that byline cycle. A byline-funded organization meets with the Appropriations Committee and explains whether they would like to see an increase or decrease in their allocation or if they would like it to remain the same. The Committee then has the opportunity to engage with the organization and ask questions. Then, the Committee votes on whether they should fund the organization at their requested allocation amount. If this vote fails, then the Committee must vote on a lower allocation — usually this is done in 10 cent reductions. This process is repeated until a simple majority of the Committee agrees on an allocation. On rare occasions, the Committee can vote not to fund an organization if they believe they shouldn’t be funded by the Student Activity Fee. 

Once the Committee has voted on an allocation for an organization, the Vice President of Finance writes a report and presents it to the Student Assembly for approval. The Assembly then has the opportunity to ask questions and vote to fund an organization at the recommendation set by the Appropriations Committee, or appeal this recommendation. For the 2022-2024 byline cycle we saw five appeals. 

Once all 28 byline organizations have had their hearing and were given a chance to appeal, each of their allocations is added up and together make up the Student Activity Fee. At the final meeting of the fall semester of a byline-setting year, the entire S.A. must vote to approve the Student Activity Fee as a whole. The Student Activity Fee for the 2022-2024 byline cycle was set at $310, a $1 increase from the previous cycle.

So why do we, the students, have to pay for it? Simply put, the University states that they are not able to absorb the fee for all students at this time. If a student receives financial aid, this fee can be covered, but we all know that financial aid packages don’t always come in time before the Bursar bill is due. We should be pushing the University to cover the Student Activity Fee, not just for some, but for all. If we want to stay true to our motto of “Any Person, Any Study,” we must continue to advocate for lower mandatory fees. 

Valeria Valencia is the Vice President of Finance, chair of the Academic Policy Committee and the First-Generation Student Representative to the Student Assembly, and a junior in the ILR School. Valencia is this week’s author of Student Assembly Viewpoint, a rotating column written by members of the SA. Comments may be sent to [email protected]. Student Assembly Viewpoint runs every other Thursday this semester.