SG, students focus on transparency need in budget process

Students called for greater transparency surrounding AU’s budget process, including financial aid and the endowment, at a town hall hosted by the Student Government on Sept. 29.

“The budget has varying levels of transparency,” SG President Sophia Wirth said. “Parts of it are pretty transparent, other parts are not.”

SG held the town hall to help determine what issues students care about, so SG can be accurate representatives of the University, Wirth said.

The University is in the process of creating the budget for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. SG works with the AU administration and Board of Trustees to represent and advocate for student interests during the budget process.

The University Budget Committee will create budget formulation criteria, which will be approved by President Neil Kerwin and then submitted to the Board of Trustees at the board’s November meeting. The committee will then develop detailed budget proposals, to be submitted to the Board of Trustees at its March 2015 meeting.

During the meeting, students discussed their frustration with the administration and budget process. Many wanted a more recognition of student needs in the budget process. However, there was also hope that if students worked with SG, change could be affected.

Overall, Wirth said she felt that students are more informed about the budget than in previous years and are being reasonable in their expectations. She also said that the Board of Trustees is in a more realistic place about what they want from students. Although there is still “a big fight ahead of us,” Wirth said that they are in a better place than they were during the last budget cycle.

Students, SG call for transparency
A number of issues mentioned at the meeting centered around transparency.

How the endowment is invested and how AU determines need for financial aid are both issues Wirth said were fairly opaque.

Multiple students commented about the need for more financial aid, a clearer appeals process and greater transparency. Some students felt that there should be more publicity about scholarships that are available for students.

There was also discussion about whether SG should advocate for more need based aid, merit based aid or both.

Last budget cycle, the Board of Trustees set aside $7.4 million for financial aid over two years, with an extra $500,000 per year as need increased, according to the budget. An additional $1.77 million was dedicated to funding addition Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars scholarships, helping low income students and supporting students in the Washington Internships for Native Students.

Students have varying opinions depending in part on their experience with financial aid, Wirth said.

Wirth also said that the Board of Trustees is largely from a generation where college was much more affordable, so SG is trying to educate them about the burden of debt students face today.

Students ask for lower tuition increase
Many students were particularly concerned about tuition rate increases.

Students asked Wirth and Dunn to advocate for lower tuition hikes. During the last two year budget cycle tuition increased by 2.95 percent, the lowest tuition increase in 40 years.

Some students argued that SG should propose areas of the budget that could be reduced to keep tuition increases down.

Students targeted the amount of money dedicated to AU Marketing. Last budget cycle, the University gave AU Marketing slightly under 1 percent of the total budget. The idea of reducing the number of free items, such as t-shirts, that the University gives away was one suggestion students provided.

One of the biggest areas of concern was the increasing size of the administration and the amount administrators are paid. Students argued that many of the well-paid administrators are largely inefficient, despite their paychecks. Others pointed out that AU needs to be able to retain competent administrators.

However, students were in favor of increasing salaries for professors so that AU can stay competitive and attract the best faculty.

The endowment was also a major topic of discussion. Wirth said that one of the main reasons AU is very dependent on tuition is because its endowment is relatively small. The University is attempting to solicit larger donations, especially through athletics.

“Our voices inside the boardroom really mean nothing unless there are student voices outside the boardroom,” Wirth said. “…In terms of actually fighting, a lot of that comes from student action and student voice.”

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