It’s All About the Money: The Student Activity Fee Split

On Monday, February 9, 2015, the Student Government Legislature approved a bill co-authored by myself and Ely Goldberg, President of the Graduate Student Government Association, which amended the existing Student Activity Fee Split. The (new) 2015–2016 Fee Split does a lot of good things: it sets aside money to fund exciting student organization software, increases the amount of money the Legislature has to fund events and initiatives, and most importantly, puts more graduate student money under graduate student control. Before I talk about what all of that means, let’s talk about what the Student Activity Fee and the Fee Split actually are.

The Student Activity Fee

Who Pays?

The Student Activity Fee (SAF) is paid once per semester by every student actively enrolled at Emory University. “Actively enrolled” simply means that a student is taking classes. It’s important that we make the distinction between students and actively enrolled students to account for all of the different populations on campus. Students may not be actively enrolled for a number of reasons. For example, they may be in research positions, participating in residency, or on clinical rotations.

This distinction matters because it affects the number of people paying into divisions and programs, which explains why the amount of money observed in Divisional Councils and other governing bodies may differ from expectations if you simply take the number of students enrolled in a division and multiply that by the Student Activity Fee. For the purposes of this article, however, we’re going to make calculations based on the number of students enrolled rather than the number actively enrolled because the data on enrollment is easier to get than the data on active enrollment.

What does it fund?

The short answer is this: the SAF funds all of the student activities and organizations on campus. In fact, we have rules that specify that Student Activity Fee money may only be used on Emory students. Student activities are things like concerts, Outdoor Emory trips, Diwali, airport shuttles, Experience Shuttles, and anything sponsored by a student organization. Student organizations are groups recognized and chartered by the Student Government Association (SGA), including Divisional Councils like College Council and Rollins SGA, groups like ICE and MSA, university-wide organizations like Student Programming Council (SPC) and Media Council, and governing bodies like Graduate Student Government Association (GSGA).

The SAF also funds the Student Government Association Business Office which manages student organization records and financial information. The office has a team of three people who are the only non-students on campus allowed to receive Student Activity Fee money. These folks are employees of Emory University and the Student Government Association.

You may have noticed a trend about all of those things. They’re student-facing, separate from the classroom (though there are exceptions), and they’re everywhere. We have over 450 student organizations planning thousands of events, activities, and outings every year.

What does it not fund?

Professors. Scholarships. Classrooms. Internet access. Essentially, anything that is not managed by a student organization is not funded by the SAF. There are some exceptions, like when organizations invest in permanent structures and fund repairs to facilities often used by student groups, but these rules generally hold true.

How much is the fee?

For the 2014–2015 academic and fiscal year, the SAF is $89 per student per semester. In 2015–2016, this will increase to $92. Why? The answer lies in the Cost of Living Adjustment (CoLA).

The CoLA is a regular adjustment to the Student Activity Fee to protect buying power and minimize the effects of inflation on student organizations. Between 2007 and 2015, the CoLA was a three percent increase every four years. If the Board of Trustees approves a proposed modification, the CoLA will become a two percent increase every year beginning in the 2016–2017 academic year.

Who decides the amount of the fee?

Emory University is unique in that the power to determine and adjust the SAF lies solely with the Student Government Association. Modifications must be approved by the Board of Trustees, but no individual or group on campus can propose modifications except SGA. The Student Activity Fee is set only by students, paid only by students, and benefits only students.

The Student Activity Fee Split

Now that we know all about the SAF, we are prepared to talk about the Fee Split. When the SAF is paid at the beginning of each semester, the Fee Split determines how the roughly $1.3M is divided. An image of the 2015–2016 Fee Split is shown below (don’t be alarmed, the SAF is shown in an annual amount: $184, which works out to $92 per semester, just as expected).

Okay, that’s a lot of numbers. Let’s figure out what we’re looking at. The Fee Split document can be thought of in terms of two main sections: the Divisional Distribution (blue box) and the Macro Distribution (green box).

Divisional Distribution

The Divisional Distribution comes first because students pay their SAF to their division of enrollment. Once the money is in the divisional account, it is split according to the percentages specified here and automatically transferred to the appropriate place. The Divisional Distribution reads from left to right. So, using an Allied Health student as an example, 72% of that student’s SAF would stay with the Allied Health divisional council, 19% would be sent to the Macro Distribution, and 9% would be sent to the Graduate Student Government Association (GSGA).

Things generally work the same way in undergraduate divisions, but I’m sure you’ve noticed that the “% to College” column comes into play. All of the undergraduate divisional councils (with the exception of College Council, the council for Emory College of Arts and sciences) transfer a percentage of their students’ activity fees to College Council, effectively purchasing the right for their students to participate in activities and events sponsored by College Council and the organizations that it charters. In the case of Oxford College, the 1% contribution allows their sophomores to vote for Junior Representatives before their transition to the Atlanta Campus for their Junior year.

Emory College of Arts and Sciences boasted an enrollment of 5,700 students in 2012 (the most recent year for which we have enrollment data at the divisional level). In that same year, the Undergraduate Business School had 717 students enrolled, the Undergraduate Nursing School had 264, and Oxford College had 909, for a total of 7,590 students*. Of all undergraduate students, 75% were enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences and paid their activity fees to College Council. The majority of undergraduate clubs are chartered under College Council, placing the bulk of events and funding requests under its domain. Thus, the transfers.

Macro Distribution

Remember our Allied Health student from the earlier example? 19% of that student’s activity fee was sent to the Macro Distribution. We call it the Macro Distribution because it funds accounts at the university-wide level that benefit students enrolled in every division. The Macro Distribution itself is divided into three parts: Essential Accounts, Interdivisional Organizations, and Miscellaneous. In each part, numbers are summed from top to bottom instead of left to right.

Essential Accounts are those that are necessary for the operation of the Student Government Association and student organizations. These accounts fund the salaries of our employees, provide the money for software that manages organizations, and ensure that the lights stay on and that the copier keeps humming in the Business Office. They also give the Legislature and the Executive Board the means to supplement student organization budgets and support initiatives.

Interdivisional Organizations are those that serve or have membership from several divisions of the university. Instead of receiving direct percentage allocations like divisional councils and other accounts in the Macro Distribution, funding for Interdivisional Organizations is pooled, and these groups submit budgets to the Finance Committee of the SGA to access it.

Miscellaneous accounts exist but do not receive funding directly from the Student Activity Fee Split. The University-wide organization account provides a destination for any unspent money from Interdivisional Organizations at the end of each year. Such money is held in the account for use by Interdivisional Organizations (through budget supplementation) the following year. The SGA Self-generated account provides a destination for any self-generated funds raised by the Student Government Association. The Fee Interest Account is where the interest accrued by Student Activity Fee money is deposited as it sits unspent over the course of the year. This account may only be utilized by the Legislature to fund projects or structures that will last three years or more.

How is This Different From 2014–2015?

Earlier I mentioned that the Fee Split was amended by the SGA Legislature. Everything used as an example thus far has been based on the amended (2015–2016) Fee Split. How do the 2014–2015 Fee Split and the 2015–2016 Fee Split differ? Let’s look at this (cropped) side-by-side comparison.

  1. Student Legal Services no longer receives a 1% allocation from every division. Instead, it becomes an Interdivisional Organization. In undergraduate divisions, this 1% is reallocated to the Macro Distribution.
  2. In graduate divisions, the 1% from Student Legal Services is added to the Graduate Student Government Association (GSGA) allocation, bringing the GSGA allocation to 8%.
  3. In graduate divisions, 1% is removed from the University-wide Distribution allocation and added to the GSGA allocation, bringing the GSGA allocation to its final total, 9%.
  4. The University-Wide Distribution is renamed “Macro Distribution” and is subdivided.
  5. University-wide Organizations are renamed “Interdivisional Organizations” and officially switch to budgetary allocations for funding.
  6. The Space Management/Symplicity account is renamed “Services and Experience Enhancement” and its allocation is increased in size.
  7. Though not called out in the graphic, the allocations for Salaries and the Legislature are both increased, while the allocation for the SGA Administrative account (Executive Branch) is decreased.

In Closing

  • More graduate student money will be under graduate student control with the increase in the allocation to the Graduate Student Government Association.
  • The Student Government Legislature will be better equipped with financial resources to pursue and execute initiatives while providing meaningful supplemental funding to student organizations when necessary.
  • The Executive Board will have substantial resources to invest in software and services that will enhance the student experience by making student organizations easier to find, join, manage, track, and fund.
  • Every divisional council will see an increase in the absolute dollar amount of available funds.

In other words, you should be excited for next year. I know that I am!

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