From your wallet to Iowa State: Where do student activity fees go?


Andrew Kowalski/Iowa State Daily

Seth Carter, finance director of Student Government at Iowa State, addresses the club officers that met Nov. 1 at Carver Hall to discuss the new university trademark policies for clubs and organizations. Carter instructed officers to continue wearing and producing clothing that is in violation of the policy and detailed a plan to produce shirts that intentionally violate the policy in protest of the new rules.

Madelyn Ostendorf

Students may be facing a tuition increase of 3.9-4.9 percent after the Board of Regents approves the upcoming year’s tuition plan. As the price of attending college steadily rises, students may want to keep a closer eye on the fees that accumulate on their U-Bills and what they are used for.

One of the fees found on a student’s U-Bill is the student activity fee. The student activity fee is collected from every registered student that takes classes at Iowa State University each semester.

The fee, which was $38 for the 2018-2019 school year, is channeled to the Student Government and the Graduate and Professional Student Senate (GPSS). $37.90 goes directly to either Student Government, if the student paying is an undergraduate, or to GPSS, if the student is a graduate or professional student. The other $0.10 goes to the Legislative Relations Reserve Account, an account set aside for the purpose of lobbying local, state and federal governments.

In addition to the undergraduate student activity fees, Student Government also receives part of the GPSS student activity fees. Student Government collects one-third of the GPSS fees and GPSS receives two-thirds, which is a direct opposite of the proportion in previous years.

“The undergraduate Student Government is a little more comprehensive in the amount of things that we fund, and what we fund even benefits graduate students and professionals, so we get some of their activity fee,” said Seth Carter, the former finance director for Student Government.

The fee amount must be approved by the Board of Regents every year, which Carter said is the “most difficult part about it.”

In order to set the fee for the year and decide if any changes to the student activity fee or other fees are needed, the Student Government president appoints four voting members to the Special Student Fee Committee.

The appointed members typically include the Student Government president, the finance director, the chief of staff and one member of the senate, as well as the president of GPSS and the GPSS treasurer, Carter said.

Once the fee is set, paid for and allocated to the appropriate accounts, it can begin to be used.

“Once people pay their fee, it comes into one huge account,” Finance Director Madison Mueller said. “That money is dispersed among about 12 different accounts in Student Government.”

Mueller listed the Events Account, the Special Projects Account, the Excellence Fund and the Senate Discretionary Fund as a few of the 12 accounts, as well as the main accounts the student activity fee is used in.

Any student or student group can request funding from any of the accounts, as long as their request and purpose fits within guidelines of the account. However, if a request does not fit the guidelines or can be interpreted to not fit the guidelines, the request can be denied by the Senate.

An Iowa State majorette/dance team, the C-Nettes, came to the Senate in January requesting funding for uniforms, shoes, registration and transportation for a competition. They requested funding from the Excellence Fund, which requires that the funding bill’s purpose meets at least one of the following criteria:

— Raise the university’s profile or prestige

— Promote diversity, inclusion, equality, social justice or address other issues of campus climate

— Have a positive impact on the student experience of a broad segment of the campus population

— Further the institution’s strategic plan, mission and goals, possess and maintain active student involvement in all initiatives

— Provide evidence of other fundraising efforts

During the Senate’s debate of the C-Nettes’ request, the Senate decided to divide the bill into two: the first to fund registration for and transportation to the competition and the second to fund the uniforms and shoes.

During the debate, then-Sen. Wyatt Scheu was against the funding of the second bill because he said that it did not fit the criteria of the Excellence Fund. Then-Speaker Cody Woodruff argued that the cultural style of dance that the C-Nettes perform and the relevant uniforms that the bill would fund did fit in the Excellence Fund and raised the prestige of the university.

The Senate voted against the second bill as many senators did not feel that the Excellence Fund criteria was met.

One of the responsibilities of the finance director is to help students receive funding for their eligible clubs, organizations and events. During the spring semester, annual allocations begin to set the club’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Using a projected income of student activity fees for the next fiscal year based on estimated enrollment numbers from the Officer of the Registrar, the Finance Committee sees clubs and organizations to allocate money to their budget for the year. This budget may include event registration, cost of renting or purchasing items or other expenses that the committee finds to fit within their guidelines.

If a club, organization or individual needs spending throughout the year, they can go to the Finance Committee of Student Government and request a funding bill. The funding bill has to meet the same criteria as the allocations and can be debated in the Senate. Organizations that don’t often receive funding of any kind from Student Government, such as the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, are also able to come and request funding.

Karen Kedrowski, the director of the Catt Center, went to Student Government on April 24 to request $10,000 for the 19th Amendment Centennial Commemoration Kickoff in 2020.

“I just casually mentioned that we were planning this big event and that it was taking up a lot of my time, and [Sen. Jacob Schrader] started to ask me questions and heard how ambitious it was,” Kedrowski said. “He suggested that I propose that Student Government help fund it, since it was a state-wide event and was going to make a big splash.”

Kedrowski said she worked with Schrader before on student voter engagement, as Schrader was the chair of the Civic Engagement Committee during his previous Senate term, so she said she was very excited when Student Government agreed to fund her project.

Because the event is intended to target a large population of Iowa State’s campus and will bring attention to campus, the Carrie Chapman Catt Center was eligible to be funded. However, not all organizations on campus are eligible to receive funding from Student Government.

If a student organization is funding-eligible and their request meets all of the guidelines, they receive their funding. If, however, they do not use all of their allocated funding, the group does not keep the excess.

“We reclaim unused Student Government dollars,” Carter said. “That’s what gets people messed up sometimes, they think they keep that money, and they try to spend money they don’t have later on down the road and then they go into debt.”

Mueller said some students are upset they have to pay an extra $38 each semester, but in the long run, the events, clubs and experiences that those fees are helping to fund are worth more than just $38.

“My philosophy is that every student on campus should get $38 of utility out of that money,” Mueller said.