Midway through its first year of existence, a groundbreaking student committee is working to understand the complexities of the University’s budget.
Fostering communication between students and University administrators is a key objective of the Division of Student Affairs Advisory Board, and members of the recently formed group say working with Student Affairs’ budget is essential to maintaining that dialogue.
University President Mary Sue Coleman approved the board’s formation in April partly in response to protest by Student Voices in Action, a coalition of University student groups.
SVA pushed for the development of a student advisory board because the group was dissatisfied with budget cuts and changes to student services, some of which have been reversed after the University had some of its state funding restored earlier this year.
Vice President for Student Affairs E. Royster Harper said she hopes the board’s discussion will help students and administrators see eye to eye on such issues.
“With the diverse set of students (on the board), it is another way for us to keep open the lines of communication to make sure we are getting student input on initiatives and projects that we are working on,” she said.
The board met for the first time in September, and has met every three weeks since, primarily to talk about the Student Affairs budget.
Harper said she has attended two of the board’s meetings this term in order to help explain the intricate budget process.
Students will spend most of this term’s meetings gaining a fuller understanding of the budget’s intricacies, Harper said. Then, next term, members will give input on the budget based on the emerging concerns of students.
“In January, we’ll talk about goals and objectives,” Harper said, adding that the needs of the student community would be part of that discussion.
“We will ask (the group) for their feedback and advice about core services that we’re providing,” she added.
The board consists of undergraduate and graduate students, international students and students with diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds. It is comprised of 15 members, three of whom are members of the Michigan Student Assembly. Members went through an application process to get on the board.
“We do not speak as representatives of every student on campus. We simply provide a student perspective of the issues presented to us,” said LSA senior and co-Chair Carrie Rheingans in an e-mail.
Only 1 percent of the University’s General Fund is earmarked for Student Affairs. The General Fund is a pool of money collected from tuition, state appropriations and other revenue that goes toward almost all academic and administrative units. The fund for the Division of Student Affairs amounted to nearly $10 million in Fiscal Year 2004.
After allocating about 72 percent of that money for Student Affairs salaries and 20 percent to the Michigan Union, the Michigan League, and Pierpont Commons, little more than one million dollars is left for Student Affairs’ operations, according to the board.
Student Affairs programs such as Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs, the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs, University Health Services, the Office of Greek Life and the Office of Student Activities and Leadership get sizeable portions of that money.
The rest is doled out among other Student Affairs programs.
“As you can see from this, (Student Affairs) has to use its revenues wisely each year,” Rheingans said.
Another complication of the Student Affairs budget is that its timeline conflicts with that of the state of Michigan. “(Student Affairs’) and University’s budget years begin in July each year, whereas the state’s budget begins in October,” Rheingans said.
She added that the gap between the cycles means that Student Affairs cannot really determine the size of its budget until months after the state makes its move.