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Friday, Sep 29, 2023

How student organizations get their funding

As student organizations submit budgets to be approved for the following year each spring, some fall short of receiving the full funding they request. Funding for clubs comes from the student activity fee that each student pays with their tuition. The Student Government Association Finance Committee (SGAFC) pointed to the growing number of student clubs as well as increased club spending as the cause of the funding shortage.

“Our essential role is to financially support student organizations on campus, and ensure that the funding that we’re giving them really allows them to really pursue their mission and also create inclusive communities so that every student that attends Middlebury College is able to find a group that they identify with,” said Gloria Escobedo ’23, director of SGAFC.

According to the Student Activities Office (SAO), the number of student organizations on campus has increased recently.

“On average, the number of student organizations grows each year since the trend is that more new organizations are created than go inactive,” a representative from the office said in an email to The Campus.

SAO noted that there are currently roughly 150 student clubs and organizations, with 20 more in the process of requesting official status. There are currently 148 listed student organizations on Presence, but the Student Life section of the college’s website says that the Student Activities Team works with more than 200 student organizations.

Escobedo pointed to the growing number of student organizations as one possible cause for some clubs’ funding not meeting their needs. Now that the college has relaxed Covid-19 restrictions, many clubs are returning to hosting in-person events, which has led to a need for more funding. She noted that organizations’ costs were down during the last couple years because events took place virtually, and the cost of food and other materials was non-existent. Escobedo said that, generally, club funding has not decreased, but emphasized that it is difficult to generalize given that each club has a unique circumstance.

“All student organization funding is provided by the student activity fee paid by each student,” the SAO said. However, organizations can also use their gift account, which contains any donations or money earned from sales that the club has accumulated over the years, and some organizations are endowed.

The amount of money SGAFC receives from the student activities fee has remained relatively consistent throughout the years, according to Escobedo, with slight increases as the activity fee has gone up. On average, SGAFC receives about $1 million each year to allot to student organizations, she said.

The student activity fee for the 2022–23 academic year is $460. The activity fee is approved by the Board of Trustees as part of the comprehensive fee that also includes tuition and room and board, and it has been steadily increasing in recent years. The fee for the 2021–22 academic year was $440, for the 2020–21 academic year it was $436 and for the 2019–20 academic year it was $426. Escobedo noted that the college increases the fee in part to account for inflation.

Based on the estimated number of students on campus, accounting for those abroad, the combined total of the student activities fee for this academic year is approximately $1.1 million. In 2020, all non-remote students paid the student activities fee, and The Campus reported that the amount totaled $1.2 million.

In addition to funding student organizations, the student activity fee also covers other SGA initiatives, such as break buses and the Presence website and other operational costs. During the spring of 2020 when students were sent home, SGAFC pivoted its reserve funds to financially support students and staff.

Each club presents a budget to the SGAFC in order to determine how much money they will receive, according to Cole Siefer ’25, deputy director of SGAFC. The treasurer and president of each club explain each item on their budget to the committee, after which the committee evaluates the presented budget and finalizes it.

“We also depend on historical knowledge for a particular organization. So organizations that have been long standing… [if] we've noticed a trend that they have been growing in size, sometimes that might lead us to allocate them with a larger amount, as opposed to prior years,” Escobedo said.

Student organizations also have the ability to obtain funding from sources other than the SGA Finance Committee, such as alumni donations and profit from services or products sold, according to Siefer. However, Siefer noted that obtaining funding from other sources is not common for clubs, and SGAFC has no control over how clubs spend their money earned from other sources.

According to Siefer, if a club has spent all of its allotted budget or has an unexpected expense, they can complete a new money request. According to the Student Organization Handbook, the deadline for new money requests for the fall 2022 semester is November 18. Siefer said that the process for new money requests is the same as the annual budget requests.

“I think historically, there has never, at least in my knowledge, been an instance where we've completely run out of money and haven’t been able to provide financial assistance for club organizations,” Escobedo said. She explained that many clubs do not use the entirety of the money they are allotted. At the end of the academic year, any funds remaining in club budgets are added to the SGA reserves, a fund set aside for emergency use.

Clubs present their budgets in the spring for the following academic year. This means that clubs may not know their exact funding needs at the time they make their request.

“We rely pretty heavily on this funding as it makes our social events more accessible since members don’t have to pay out of pocket,” said Melisa Gurkan ’23.5, treasurer of the Middlebury Mischords, an a cappella group.

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Club sports budgets are also covered by the student activity fee, but the oversight of club sport funding recently transitioned from the domain of SGAFC to that of SAO. SGAFC now allocates funding for all student clubs and organizations except club sports.

“Club sport budgets were getting very, very large, and we were starting to lack some of the knowledge and expertise necessary to be able to to handle the budgets,” Siefer said. The change in oversight coincides with the introduction of the club sport tier system that defines the budget, competition and resources of each club.

Escobedo encourages clubs who feel that they do not have enough funding or that some of the items they requested in their budget proposal were denied to make new money requests when needed. “We're more than happy to continue those conversations so that we can get a better understanding of what funding is needed and where it needs to go,” Escobedo said.

Susanna Schatz

Susanna Schatz ‘24 (she/her) is the Senior News Editor. 

She previously served as Local Editor, Staff Writer, and Visuals Artist for The Campus. She is an English major and Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies minor.   

Susanna is the social media and marketing intern for a small business started by Midd Alums, Treeline Terrains. In her free time you’ll find her taking in the Vermont outdoors hiking, swimming, skiing, reading in an Adirondack chair, or painting the scenery.