Last year, during SPSCC’s annual Services and Activities budgetary meetings, a passionate group of students gathered to protest alleged “unfair” allocation practices. These 25 students were intent on pressuring the College Board of Trustees to reject a plan which would drastically reduce the budget of many clubs and programs. Although the protesters were heard on the matter, the board was forced to make reductions due to lower student registration and inconsistent spending by clubs.
SPSCC has always been a college that offers many extracurricular activities to increase student engagement and retention. This continues to be an integral aspect of the college’s mission under the leadership of President Timothy Stokes. Stokes says, “Just because someone’s at a community college, doesn’t mean they have to have a [traditional] community college experience.” Being a part of a club is one way of achieve that goal.
The discontent that is generated by S&A budgetary fluctuations is easily explained in Stokes’ view, “Clubs had been leaving 50, 60, $75,000 on the table every year of unspent funds.” This is a clearly inefficient way to treat funding. However, students feel as though they don’t have enough say in the matter. In response, Stokes references the contingency fund which can be utilized by clubs for a variety of functions. Stokes says, “I understood why students were upset, but what they did is they put more money in contingency, and everyone that has come and asked for money —this year has been funded.” The Contingency Fund, which is accessible to clubs and programs on an as-needed basis, is viewed as a way around the decline in initial allocations. “There’s still $50,000 —for the rest of the year!” states Stokes, in regard to the fund’s remaining balance for ‘16.
Sirena Mendiola, S&A budget committee chairperson for the 16’/17’ school year, believes that discontent stems from the fact that, “Even though all these clubs—got cut, they were mostly concerned that they wouldn’t be able to host their events anymore.” On the contrary, clubs are still encouraged to create budget requests which include funding for every resource necessary to conduct business as usual. Mendiola admits, “When I first heard about it [cuts] I was really upset —I asked some people on the Budget Committee about what happened, and then I could see that —it just had to do with an overestimated budget.”
According to Jen Manley, Dean of Student Engagement and Retention, budget requests in the past weren’t exactly congruent with what is needed to run certain clubs. Manley is in charge of directing the Budget Committee, which views the requests and makes recommendations to the Board of Trustees based on their findings. Manley states that she instructs the committee to, “really listen to these budget requests. Every request is a priority to someone, and it needs to be respected as such.” If the requests are not fiscally responsible, however, it is the committee’s job to award only the amount for which there is evidence based on need. Manley explains, “We don’t have a governing document that places a cap on student groups. –That’s why we do this process where students can come and say, ‘This is why this is a priority.’”
The approach to S&A budget allocations has been retuned to reflect an overestimation of funds needed by clubs and programs in the past. These groups are now required to produce a formal request that explains why each dollar is needed and where that dollar will end up. All of the leftover funds that have been “taken” from these groups can now be accessed through the Contingency Fund by filling out a request form which explains the intended use of the money. The college administration assures students that these funds will be awarded to those who make that request, but the Budget Committee will scrutinize more carefully the initial round of allocations every year.