Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Letter: The state of the student activities trust fund

Breaking down the proposed student activities fee increase
(Collegian file photo)

The University of Massachusetts Student Government Association is set to vote on a proposed fee increase of $18.50 at the meeting on Wednesday, March 11. This would bring the student activities fee to a total of $266.50 and would help relieve high budget cuts Registered Student Organizations and agencies would face.

The student activities fee for undergraduate students at UMass is currently $248.

While a sizable amount, RSOs and agencies, such as Student Legal Services Office, the SORC and CEPA, only receive about $148 as the other $100 is currently funding the Student Union Building renovation.

In April 2019, the SGA voted to raise the fee 7.49 percent, which charged students an additional $17 for fiscal year 20 and provided relief to the Student Activities Trust Fund.

Prior to the raise, RSOs and agencies who requested a budget for Fiscal Year 20 (July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020) faced budget cuts of 21.6 percent and 33 percent, respectively.

After the student activities fee increase in 2019, the cuts were leveled at 22.5 percent. That means if you submitted a budget to the SGA Ways and Means committee for $10, and followed all of the funding guidelines, you only ever had a chance at $7.75. Budget cuts force RSOs to reconsider what to host and what conferences, competitions, or similar events are important to attend.

We need to raise the student activities fee again if we want to be able to provide similar relief to established student organizations.

The expenses and deduction from the Student Activities Trust Fund total $5,025,679. Since $100 of the fee automatically goes toward payments for the student union renovation, it is a large portion of the fund (40.5 percent). Agencies received $1,321,124 (25.1 percent) and RSOs received $931,383 (17.7 percent). Other significant expenses include administrative overhead, the Spring Concert Fund, Student Governance (1.8 percent) and the salary of the SATF financial advisor (1.1 percent).

The Ways and Means Committee votes on budgets in a viewpoint neutral way that does not allow committee members to take into account how much money is in the SATF. This means that we could allocate any amount to a given ESO but not have enough to actually fund it in the end. Because of this, budget cuts are needed as the SGA cannot run at a deficit. So while the total requested budgets can reach over $6 million, there historically has not been enough to fund ESOs at that much.

There a number of factors as to why overall budgets requests, and subsequently cuts, are anticipated to be high. First, the minimum wage in Massachusetts is increasing, meaning agencies are requesting more money to pay their undergraduate staff accordingly. Second, there are more budget requests.ESOs start planning their budgets a year in advance. The committee is currently reviewing and allocating money for FY21 (this means that money approved would be available for use starting on July 1, 2020). The Ways and Means committee received a total of 205 RSO budget requests and 14 agency budgets this year –  an increase of 23 budgets from last year. Increased budget submissions means increased amounts requested. In FY20, RSOs had a total requested amount of over $2 million. For FY21, RSOs had a total requested amount of over $3.3 million. If the fee is not changed to reflect that, groups would not receive the funding necessary to be sustainable.

With minimum wage in Massachusetts rising, the general cost of living is as well. That means that gas is a bit more expensive than it was last year, so are airplane tickets and hotel rooms and registrations and equipment and speaker fees. The fee needs to be raised to account for other rising prices. Prior to last year, the fee had not been increased for the purpose of funding ESOs in over five years. This means we have a lot of ground to make up if we intend to keep being the primary provider of funds to ESOs.

A motion to raise the fee 7.49 percent (the maximum amount that the Senate can vote on) will be presented to elected Senators. If they vote in favor of the fee, the increase is accounted for in the grand budget called the S-1. This file is then submitted with the amounts each ESO should be receiving to the Massachusetts State House for approval along with the UMass system’s budget.

A 7.49 percent increase to the current fee of $248 would mean an additional $18.50 to bring the Student activities fee to a grand total of $266.50.

While the fee increase would provide immediate relief to the anticipated FY21 budget cuts, there are other sources of revenue planned for the coming fiscal years.

Students are contributing to half of the total costs of the Student Union renovation meaning we have made a major financial investment. This also means that revenue generated from the new Student Union will be returned to the SATF. Any outside organizations that book the Student Union Ballroom will be subjected to a fee (UMass campus organizations will not have to pay to rent the space). However, the Student Union is not set to open until Fall 2020, meaning we cannot expect to collect revenue until after that.

Another important aspect is that Club Sports Council is moving to Campus Recreation and will be funded by them in the future. While there is nothing cemented yet, starting as early as FY22 could the SATF see some relief funding for Club Sports Council, which is one of the largest councils on campus.

Fill out this Google form. Talk to your grade’s Senator urging them to vote “yes” on a fee increase to sustain student clubs and organizations on campus. Come out to show support on a fee increase at the next SGA meeting on Wednesday, March 11. All members of the student body are allowed to make announcements during the very beginning of the meeting.

If you have any questions please feel free to email [email protected].

Amelia Marceau

Chair of the Ways and Means Committee


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