On Friday, Oct. 21, the Student Budgeting Committee (SBC) Board sent an email informing the Swarthmore community that the amount of money they have currently allocated to student clubs and organizations for the 2022-2023 academic year would put SBC into a deficit of $31,000. Therefore, SBC will be reallocating the Fall budget to 72 clubs and organizations under a new set of SBC guidelines.
SBC sought to clarify the situation in a town hall meeting on Monday, Oct. 24. In this meeting, SBC announced that since the sending of this email, they have increased their deficit evaluation: if the Fall allocations stand, SBC would sit at a deficit of $86,000.
The role of SBC is to allocate money to clubs throughout the year. This money primarily comes from the Student Activities Fund (SAF), which is the sum of all student activities fees. In the rare case that SBC allocates more than the SAF, SBC can also tap into the Capital Reserve Fund (CRF), a backup pool of money that rolls over unused money from the previous academic year.
At the end of the Spring 2022 semester, the college decided to end the rollover, essentially eliminating the CRF’s source of replenishment. In that same period, the CRF was also drastically depleted due to an over-allocation of funds.
Last Spring, The Phoenix reported on financial challenges that SBC faced due to the student activities fee being cut from $400 to $200 for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 academic years as a result of the COVID pandemic. During the 2021-2022 academic year, SBC allocated $808,344 on the understanding that they were operating on their pre-COVID SAF pool. However, since they actually had half of their usual funding, they were forced to dip into $484,748 of the CRF.
In an interview with The Phoenix, current SBC Chair Sophia Lu ’24, who served as an SBC associate during the 2020-2022 academic years, commented on SBC’s over-allocation of funds.
“I think Kyle [Lee ‘22, the former Chair of SBC] was under the impression that we had our full student activities fee of $400 per student, but it wasn’t until mid [Spring] semester when we found out that it was only $200. I’m not sure how that miscommunication came to be,” she said.
While SBC reported in the Oct. 21 email that they would have $55,654 left in the CRF after the over-allocations and the end of roll-overs, the college informed them that the CRF would only contain $36,695 for the 2022-2023 academic year. This update changed the projected deficit from $31,048 to $86,704.
The town hall was hosted in an effort to be transparent about this year’s financial challenges. This meeting was led by Lu and SBC General Manager Jessica Gutierrez ’25. While the town hall was scheduled from 7-9 p.m., the meeting ended at 7:30 p.m. After Lu and Gutierrez outlined the updated projected deficit, clarified the reallocation process, and issued new allocation guidelines, they took questions from the audience.
Lu commented on her motivation for the town hall.
“I had a talk with a student leader, and he was questioning like, ‘how are you guys making these decisions?’ That was when I realized SBC needs to be operating under something on paper so that it is transparent to all students,” she said.
During the town hall, SBC explained the deficit and highlighted ongoing efforts to create a formalized set of guidelines by which to allocate funds in the future. These guidelines were also sent to the Swarthmore community in the Oct. 21 email.
One reason why Lu decided to create these guidelines was to ensure that SBC was operating fairly and remaining transparent in its allocation process.
“I was reflecting on how SBC was performing last year and this year, and I realized that SBC was never operating under a defined system. Like it was basically just [SBC] associates making funding decisions based on whatever they think,” said Lu.
The guidelines specifically lay out the maximum amount of money that SBC is willing to spend on club functions and activities, including transportation, food and catering, programming, and events. Lu also hopes that the guidelines will clarify things that SBC will no longer fund, like team bonding dinners.
“[Team bonding dinners] are one of the ones I really want to take back. That’s the first thing I was thinking about [when writing the guidelines] … because it’s just for a few students, and they’re not serving the bigger community,” she said.
Another significant change in the way that SBC will operate in the future is that budgets will be allocated on a semesterly basis, rather than a yearly basis.
Together, the deficit and the new guidelines have prompted SBC to call for reallocations this Fall for clubs’ and organizations’ budgets. The clubs being called in for reallocation meetings meet one of the eleven criteria that SBC outlined in the Oct. 21 email. Lu expects that there will be significant changes to the budgets of clubs called in.
“I think there’ll be a lot of changes, and we’ll be taking a lot back and reallocating a lot of it,” Lu said at the town hall meeting.
This article was updated on Nov. 1, 2022 at 12:45 p.m. to edit one quote that was transcribed incorrectly.