Student activity fee is cut by 30 percent for fall semester

Despite reduction, organizations are optimistic for year ahead

Student activity fee is cut by 30 percent for fall semester
Center for Student Involvement in Mary Graydon Center.

American University’s student activity fee, which provides funding for student-run organizations, was reduced by 30 percent for the fall semester as online classes and a lack of in-person events reduce its use by students.

Instead of paying the usual $88.50 fee, students are now required to pay $62. Many organizations that depend on the fee said they aren’t worried about having enough money to provide virtual experiences to students over the next few months. 

“There definitely is enough money, and we made sure that when we made the decision to reduce the fee that it wouldn't impact clubs negatively,” said Daniel Cohen, the finance director for AU Club Council, which provides support and funding for on-campus clubs.

The fee reduction was voted on by the Budget Advisory Committee, which is made up of members from Student Government, Club Council and Student Media Board. After deciding the amount of the reduction, the committee gave a recommendation to the University so the reduction could be approved. 

While activities will be entirely virtual, organizations will still need funding to cover events like hosting speakers or other virtual experiences, which is why the fee was not eliminated entirely.

Typically, Student Government, which includes the Kennedy Political Union, Women’s Initiative and Student Union Board, receives about half of the money from the fee, while the other 50 percent is split between Club Council and Student Media Board. SG’s budget was increased by three percent this year. 

According to SG Comptroller Justin Levine, who oversees the organization’s finances, $158,000 are left in the SG budget from last year, and $118,000 of that surplus is available to be spent. 

SG was advised not to spend all of the rollover money so they can allow for “wiggle room” for future semesters, Levine said. 

Levine said the organization will still be in a good financial position to operate this year, and it’s willing to assist Club Council and Student Media if they need more funding. 

Chloe K. Li, a co-chair of the Student Media Board, said the main adjustments this semester for student media organizations are the reductions in stipends for some positions and the absence of an in-person media release party at the end of the semester. In Fall 2019, the media release party cost $700, which is an increase from previous years in part due to a higher price for food. 

According to Li, the current estimate for stipend reductions is 51 percent. 

Unlike the other groups that receive student activity fee funds, the Student Media Board is being advised to spend the leftover money from last semester since they usually have more money left over than other organizations in a typical semester. Li said she does not expect student media organizations to face any real financial struggles.

“It's just a way to make sure that we're actually spending our money and not just holding it from the student body and using it for things that we need.” Li said. 

Li anticipates that student media organizations will primarily need funding for expenses such as editing software, as students are left without access to expensive equipment they can access on campus. 

“It's less that we had a cut in budgets and more the fact that COVID-19 is happening so there's restricted access to the campus. That's going to be the issue for student media this semester,” Li said.

In the past, changes to the student activity fee have been controversial, with a referendum to raise it in Fall 2018 failing by a significant margin. However, according to Levine, this semester’s fee reduction is not likely to be permanent. 

“I think we have to let this semester run its course because obviously there has been in recent years, contentious debates on pricing and raising and lowering [the] student activity fee,” Levine said. 

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