SBC lowers student activities fee after much debate

The Student Budget Committee’s lowering of the student activities fee, included in tuition, will go into effect beginning in the 2012-2013 academic year. (Holly Smith/The Phoenix)

Following a series of long and contentious debates, the Student Budget Committee recently decided to lower the student activities fee.

The SBC consists of eight students who are appointed by the Swarthmore Student Council, and meet weekly to discuss the funding of student groups and campus-wide events. This funding comes from a student activities fee that almost all students not studying abroad are required to pay. The fee for the 2011-2012 academic year was $334, recently deemed by the SBC as too high to be justified.

The process that led to the decision to lower the fee involved thorough internal discussion among SBC members throughout the fall. A recommendation to lower the student activities fee by the SBC was then made to the Student Council for review at the end of the fall semester. In the past week, the Student Council adopted the SBC recommendation and submitted it to the administration. In the next two weeks, the Board of Managers will ultimately decide whether to lower the fee and incorporate the new fee into the overall Swarthmore budget.

While the fee is a small fraction of the overall tuition at Swarthmore, it still represents a significant cost for students and parents. “We view our charge as supporting student life, but also spending as responsibly and, especially due to recent economic trends, as tightly as possible. Swarthmore is an expensive experience and the SBC wanted to take responsibility for the area of that cost that we oversee, ” Amelia Mitter-Burke ‘13, chairperson of the SBC, said.

Student groups seeking funding from the SBC are required to fill out a form to the Student Budget Office, and all money must be spent in accordance to Student Activities Account regulations. Yet at the end of each academic year, some student groups still retain excess funds that they did not need to use. Lowering the student activities fee helps the SBC reduce budgeting inefficiency and yearly rollover waste that is either lavishly spent at the end of the year or simply remain unused.

The SBC members agreed that Swarthmore’s wealth could support a rich, dynamic student life without the need to charge students as much money as the current fee.

Nonetheless, there was considerable debate over how much the fee should be decreased, and the vote on whether to recommend the smaller decrease or the larger decrease came down to a tie. Mitter-Burke, as SBC chairperson, had the tie-breaking vote between the two proposals. “I chose the smaller decrease. I believe we should take it slow in the reforms we are making this year and lower the fee further next year if our efforts work well, and that we need to explore how different levels of the fee contribute to the financial and social accessibility of Swarthmore,” she said.

The SBC decision to lower the fee is expected to receive both support and concern from students. “I am in support of the move if the cut is significant and improves efficiency,” Shiv Bhandari ’12 said, a former member of the SBC.

“When I was in the SBC, I suggested larger cuts of $20-30 rather than the $5 cut they eventually implemented, because we should manage a smaller budget properly and not simply make gestures,” he said.

The student activities fee for this year was recommended by the SBC and Student Council and set by the Board of Managers last year. The lowering of the fee, if ultimately approved, will be in effect in the academic year 2012-2013.

The Board of Managers’ decision will be announced when it approves a budget for next year in the next two weeks.

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