Student orgs face disparity in funding requests
Crack! The sound startles those not paying attention. As you glance around the room, you see it was Finance Committee Chair Gabe Stanko banging the gavel. One of the final meetings of the Finance Committee’s student organization budget review has started. As Stanko begins the meeting, you glance down at the papers in front of you to review your budget before you are called on to explain it.
This is the experience of every student organization that requests a budget from the UW-River Falls Student Government Association. While the composition of the finance committee changes from year to year, the process remains relatively unchanged.
Every undergraduate and graduate student at UW-River Falls pays segregated fees as part of their tuition. These segregated fees are broken into 19 individual pieces, including specific ones that support student organizations, with approval from the Finance Committee, which is a part of the Student Government Association.
Segregated fees fall under two categories: allocable and non-allocable. Allocable fees are able to be utilized to support student-organized activities, including student organizations. Non-allocable fees are used to support services that students utilize, including facilities and Student Health Services.
Students pay three separate amounts that appear as one sum on tuition statements each semester : media clubs, student organizations and sport clubs. Media clubs get $3, student organizations get $12.20 and sport clubs get $5.
Each year the assistant chancellor for business and finance uses enrollment projections to calculate the upcoming academic year’s student organization funding. This number is communicated to the Finance Committee for distribution during its annual organization budget hearings, and these generally occur in February and March. Ten percent of the projection is moved into a single-event funding pool, Stanko said.
Student organizations that are seeking funding, either an annual budget or single-event, must submit a budget and have their faculty adviser approve it. Once budgets are received, an individual hearing is scheduled. During this hearing each student organization has the ability to defend their budget before members of the finance committee, Stanko said.
The Finance Committee then undergoes four rounds of budget meetings. Each time the committee cuts budgets to get the total for budgets down to the projected amount.
The five most recent budget periods have seen considerable decreases in amounts allocated to student organizations. The 2018-19 academic year budgets approved in March were just $120,600. This is down from $204,633 during the 2014-15 academic year. There was a 52.6 percent decrease in allotted amounts since 2012.
The finance committee has also seen a steady decline in funding requests. The 2014-15 academic year saw $686,010 in requests, while the 2018-19 budgets saw just $349,118 in requests. There was a 49.3 percent decrease in funding requests since 2014. Information about budget requests prior to 2014 were requested but not provided by the UWRF Student Involvement office.
Paul Shephard, former director of Student Involvement, said that Student Senate recently began implementing policies that pulled unused funds back at the conclusion of the academic year. This meant that the Finance Committee only allocated what the student organizations would use. The Finance Committee increased training for student organizations on how funds can and cannot be spent.
“Prior to that, I think student orgs used to ‘shoot for the moon’ in budget requests because they knew they would only receive a fraction of what was allocated,” Shephard said.
Senate also recently allowed organizations to apply for single-event funding if they did not need an annual budget.
The Collegiate Farm Bureau asked for $20,383 during the 2014 budget review, but received $4,975, just 24.4 percent of its requested budget. Similarly, during the most recent budget hearings, it requested $9,050 but was only allocated $4,600, just 50.8 percent of its request. This is $1,900 less than last year, said Matt Kortbein, president of the organization. The decline in allocated budget amounts is affecting student organizations across the university, including the Collegiate Farm Bureau.
“The disparity in our request and allotment will be impacted in the budget and the goals we have for our event,” Kortbein said. “Because we utilize these funds primarily for Ag. Day on Campus, we will need to be more judicious with our budget and potentially hire alternate speakers. Also, we will provide less material (and activities) for students that participate.”
Kortbein said the cuts will affect the number of promotional items they can purchase for Ag. Day, including the popular t-shirts. He also said they will have to decrease the amount of advertising they are able to do because of cuts to their advertising budgets.
Kortbein also said that any remaining budget is used for professional development and learning opportunities for members of the organization. These include attending conferences and Future Farmers of America events to help members prepare for careers in various aspects of the agriculture industry. Some of these opportunities include the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Annual Convention, Ag. Women’s Summit and the Wisconsin Farm Bureau’s Discussion Meet Contest.
Kortbein said that due to the limited budget, organization members will have to investigate alternative sources of funding to continue growing their organization and events.