A New Proposal for the Aging Student Activity Fee
By: Victoria Ifatusin
Christopher Sorensen, Commissioner of Finance for the Student Government (SG) at the College of Staten Island has produced a proposal to reallocate the funds provided to earmark groups at CSI.
The Commissioner of Finance, Senior Senator for SG, and Senior Nursing student has had experience with fees in the past, as he used to serve on the CSI Association as a student board member, and last year, as an Upper Division Board member.
He found certain “trends” that are believed to be detrimental to students and the campus community, leading to a proposition as to how the Student Activity Fee (SAF) would be spent.
Sorensen saw that earmark groups – groups that receive funding from SAF, such as Athletics, Clubs and Organizations, Health and Wellness, etc. – would eventually have budget cuts by the next academic year, since “the amount that they’re receiving from SAF is no longer keeping pace with the expenses of such earmark groups,” according to Sorensen.
The money received by the earmark groups depends on the student’s involvement in the college, as part-time students pay less because “they are not on campus as much and are not receiving as much of the services” compared to full-time students.
Thus, as the money they receive is supposed to be used for the benefit of the students, some earmark groups don’t use all the money, provoking surpluses of funds that had not been utilized, when other groups lack funds, causing a demand for it.
After realizing this, Sorensen decided to assemble a committee of four senators and two students – the Finance Commission of the Student Government – that would supervise the entire Student Activity Fee.
Therefore, according to Sorensen, he and his commission decided it would be best to “identify those groups and try to do a reallocation of the Student Activity Fee from groups that are underspending theirs to ones that require additional funding based on need.”
For example, the residents of Dolphin Cove, CSI’s residence halls, depend on the Health and Wellness Center; which generates demand from them in order to provide services to students. Whereas, other earmark groups may not have a demand, but rather a surplus that other groups need.
Compared to three years ago, Sorensen said, “students received an increase in the Student Activity Fee of $40 for full and part-time students and $10 for summer students per session.”
Sorensen said it would be easier to do the same and increase the SAF, causing students to pay more, but this is something they would rather avoid.
“We want to take a step back, look at the fee that the students are already paying and see if we can better manage it to meet the needs of the students.”
However, Sorensen and his Committee are and will be facing various obstacles along the process of executing their plan.
As mentioned earlier, there was an increase in SAF three years ago, although “it did not affect any of the pre-existing earmark groups,” says Sorensen, but it instead added a new earmark group, Transportation, and the increase from the funds then solely went to Transportation’s fee.
Due to the ten-year-old funding, the groups can no longer base off of it because of the various inflationary adjustments that normally occurs.
“The fee is aging,” said Sorensen. “It’s not really designed to operate ten years in the future.”
So, how will this plan be executed?
“We are going to be looking at all the earmark groups that are part of this, and we’ve combed through all their budgets and identified items and questions which we then brought to the executive directors of those groups or the student body that run it.”
Sorensen mentioned that they have received answers to their questions, “fact-finding the needs of these different groups” and are putting information into a spreadsheet that he and the committee have created.
They began looking over it Thursday afternoon on the 18th of October, at 3 PM.
It occurred to them that some groups “continually add to their surplus which means they spend less money than they take in,” said Sorensen.
This produces a problem as students who are taxed eventually graduate and don’t get the full value of their fee if such group didn’t spend it all during that year.
Not using the student’s money would prevent having to increase the fee and he advises earmark groups to work together in planning without causing a fiscal load on the students with the fee.
Other issues do come up, as Sorensen mentions the cutting of the transportation services by “25, 30%.”
As the total budget of transportation is around $1.6 million, according to Sorensen, students are already paying $1.1 million of the fee, leaving $500,000. The cut led to the removal of $300,000, leaving them with $200,000. The college thus pays $200,000, while the students pay the majority of $1.1 million.
Understandable, but debatable, as Sorensen saw this as “unfair.”
“They hurt the students and they took the savings on their end, especially when there are other issues that the savings could go towards.”
Also, there is only one representative for Transportation, which is a bother to Sorensen. This means that there is only one student voice and vote within this earmark group.
The current allocation of SAF also affects the payment of staff, for example, the earmark Association, which consists of compliance, accounting, resources, and payroll.
“Their primary function is to help administer this fee for all these earmark groups.”
Any bill that is paid by an earmark group is forwarded to Association and it is from there that it will be taken care of.
The issue arose when commencement fees were added to the budget, including the payment of cap and gowns, rental of chairs, degree frames, and so on, adding up to $85,000.
Along with this fee, the cost of wages causes a turnover as Association is no longer able to provide competitive wages. People quit the job and leading a new staff ends up costing more money.
“That now costs the students more because now instead of that accountant doing their work,” Sorensen mentions, “There’s going to be a period of time in which we have to train that accountant before they can get back into their work.”
Sorensen does anticipate another issue – “a disagreement or a lack of understanding.”
“When you reallocate, you suffer from the fact that something’s coming from somebody. In doing this, we’re recognizing that at some point, somebody’s going to be upset.”
Yet, despite the failure for some earmark groups to understand, Sorensen sticks to targeting the wellbeing of the students.
“We know that some people may be upset with the plan or the suggestions that we put forward but the mission and the goal of it is to benefit as many students as possible. That’s the vision in mind and the principle we’re going to try to stick with.”