Big Five: How USG distributes student activity fee

Editor’s note: TommieMedia is taking a deeper look this week into how each of the Big Five organizations (USG, SAC, STAR, RHA and HANA) operate. Monday delves into USG and the student activity fee, Tuesday will give insight into SAC, Wednesday explains more about STAR, Thursday goes inside RHA and the series will end Friday with a look into Hana.

Every semester the Undergraduate Student Government has a budget of hundreds of thousands of dollars, much of which it allocates to clubs and organizations at St. Thomas.

Many students may wonder how USG, one of the “Big Five” organizations on campus, manages such a significant budget and where all the money comes from.

USG is funded almost entirely by the student activity fee, and whether or not students are aware, they are the sole contributors of that fee.

This semester, the student activity fee was $102 for full-time undergraduate students and $51 for part-time undergrads.

According to the business office, the student activity fee covers student events, activities and speakers sponsored on campus throughout the year.

USG is one of the organizations that makes sure this happens. According to Brady Narloch, USG vice president of financial affairs, USG typically receives about 40 percent of all student activity fee funding. This semester, the total amount brought in by the student activity fee was $575,000 and therefore USG received $216,000.

USG’s general council approved its fall budget allocations Oct. 25 and gave more than $93,000 for St. Thomas clubs and organizations.

How clubs ask for their shares

Clubs and organizations can request money from USG in two main ways; budget allocation requests and conference and competitions requests.

Budget allocation requests are submitted at the beginning of every semester by clubs or organizations seeking USG funding. The requests are reviewed by USG’s finance committee. The committee then presents recommendations to USG’s general council, which goes on to approve the budget allocations individually or as a whole.

Narloch said that clubs and organizations with detailed budgets and explanations are more easily approved. He said that the finance committee tries to keep the allocated amount within range of the amount that each student in the club pays toward the student activity fee every semester, unless the money is spent on the broader student body.

“We ask, ‘How much of the money that we give them do they turn directly into something that’s going to benefit the student body?’” Narloch said. “You can kind of get a sense of how well clubs spend their money in that respect through their budget requests.”

Margaret Cahill, director of campus life and USG adviser, said that USG does a good job handling the money from the student activity fee that it receives every semester from the controller’s office.

“There’s never enough money to do all the amazing things folks want to do,” Cahill said. “[USG members] make hard decisions … I think they’re very diligent in how they spend it.”

Clubs and organizations can also make conference and competition requests for local and national event. USG allocates the money for these requests, though the funds are not included in USG’s budget. According to Cahill, that money comes directly from the student activity fee before the 40/60-split between USG and STAR.

Conference and competitions requests are handled in the same way as budget allocations. The finance committee reviews the requests and presents them for a vote before USG’s general council. According to Narloch, these requests are processed on a “first come, first served” basis.

Keeping a say in STAR programming, financing club sports

When USG receives its 40 percent cut, it gives $25,000 to STAR for Fanamaniacs and the lectures committee. Narloch said USG gives that money to STAR so that USG members have a say in how these programs are run.

“It’s because Fanamaniac and lectures are such big programs that not only does STAR need additional financial support, but they also need promotional and manpower support,” Narloch said. “The fact that we give them that money kind of gives us a chip and a chair.”

USG also gives about $25,000 every semester to Campus Life to fund club sports on campus such as the sailing team and the crew club.

“The vast majority of the student activity fee money that we have, in one way or another, goes right back to the students,” Narloch said. “Whether that be in the form of distributing it to clubs or giving it to class councils, which will put on events for their specific classes or committees.”

Who decides what goes where

USG’s finance committee is made up of class presidents, Narloch, a student organization committee chair, a STAR finance intern and five non-USG students with appropriate credentials.

Narloch said he increased the number of non-USG members on the finance committee from three to five this year to give non-USG students a say in financial decisions.

Internal expenses round out the budget

Of course, USG has internal expenses too.

Narloch said that 40 to 50 percent of all internal expenses are for legacy items and the special events contingency.

The special events contingency funds USG events that are either held solely by USG or in coordination with other student organizations. Legacy items refer to programs that are run by USG every year such as Tommie Taxi, the Star Tribune readership program and homecoming events.

Other internal expenses include USG’s fall retreat, apparel for members, food and beverages for various meetings, its public relations budget and administrative expenses.

Narloch said that administrative expenses include a biweekly stipend of about $170 for the USG executive board.

“It’s an extra kick to make sure you’re treating it like a job,” Narloch said.

Narloch and Cahill both said that there are usually some remaining funds at the end of the semester roll over to the next, but USG does its best to put its budget to full use every semester.

“We strongly encourage them to spend the money in the year that they get it, so it’s serving the students who are paying for it,” Cahill said.

Brent Fischer can be reached at