Where your student activity fee goes


Graphic by Jay Waagmeester

A graphical breakdown how how much each Iowa State student has paid toward the listed student organizations over the 2022-2023 school year.

Editor’s note: Unless otherwise noted, the numbers stated are from Student Government allocations only. Organizations do not always use its entire allocation, and they may also have funding sources in addition to Student Government.

Each semester students enrolled at Iowa State pay $44 for the student activity fee; however, what happens with that money after their U-Bill is paid is a mystery to many Iowa State students.

Student Government allocates a portion of the student activity fee income to organizations that apply for funding through the annual allocation process. For the fiscal year 2023, Student Government allocated $1,277,929.85 to 99 campus organizations through the annual allocations process. The approximate $1.3 million not allocated through annual allocations is dispersed by Student Government to contracts with campus partners and through ASSET.

Many organizations use that money to host events, attend conferences or advertise their organization. How do the biggest annual budgets break down?

The following are the five organizations that received the most during Student Government’s annual allocations process for this fiscal year.

5. The Office of Student Engagement $89,510

Biggest line items:

  • ClubFest (fall and spring) $18,750
  • Online Student Organization Systems $14,500 (Student Organization Database Improvements $8,500) (Other System Maintenance and Improvements $6,000)
  • Iowa State Leadership Experience $14,000
  • Leadership Retreats and Seminars $10,000
  • Alternative Breaks $10,000

The office “works to help students have quality of life outside of the classroom, according to Kristine Heflin, associate director of the Memorial Union for Student Engagement.

The office connects students to organizations through events like ClubFest and provides leadership and community service programming and entertainment through venues like CyBowl and the WorkSpace in the Memorial Union.

The investment to engage students is worthwhile, Heflin said.

“I think a lot of the research both nationally and at Iowa State shows that students who make a connection to someone or something on campus are much more likely to stay and to graduate,” Heflin said.

Kevin Merrill, assistant director for student organizations, leadership and service, said much of the money for ClubFest is used to rent tents, tables and chairs and advertise the once-a-semester event.

Merrill said the online student organization system money is used to continue updating websites used by Iowa State students to learn more about organizations, as well as for leaders of organizations to manage rosters and keep track of members.

Merrill said the $14,500 allocated to the systems is spent carefully. He compiles a list of fixes needed and brings them up to web services all at once to save on the per-hour cost of software repair. The system itself is also reasonably priced Heflin and Merrill said.

“If we were to buy an out-of-the-box system like annually, it would probably be $30,000 or more, I would say each year,” Merrill said. “Even though we are spending what might seem like a chunk of money on updating it, we’re getting a custom system really at a fraction of the price.”

The office said due to the Iowa State Leadership Experience being a newer program, it is trying to best optimize the program to serve students and expects attendance to increase in the coming years. The Iowa State Leadership Experience is in conjunction with the University of Northern Iowa and the University of Iowa.

4. Student Alumni Leadership Council (SALC) $94,157.96

Biggest line items:

  • Pep Rally Stage $16,911
  • Food On Campus (Food and Supplies) $15,000
  • Yell Like Hell Stage on Campus $7,420
  • Pep Rally/Mass Campaniling Entertainment $7,000
  • Fireworks at Mass Campaniling $6,500
  • Tent on Campus $4,330.80
  • Radio Tower Service + 2-Way Radio Rental $3,876.16

The Student Alumni Leadership Council (SALC) budget is used exclusively for homecoming week, and the budget for homecoming week is larger than the $94,157.96 allocated by Student Government. The organization’s primary funding source outside of the Student Government is the Alumni Association.

Yell Like Hell finalists Cy Lightyear performing at ISU homecoming pep rally. (Brielle Tuttle)

Including the ExCYtement in the Streets stage, SALC was allocated $26,731, or $0.89 per student enrolled at Iowa State this academic year, for stages alone. The size and scope of the pep rally and central campus stages have to do with safety for Yell Like Hell participants, said Lauren Snyder, senior in event management and homecoming central committee co-director.

The $3,869.16 spent on radio tower service and two-way radio rental is for the ease of communication during events.

“We have 65 people on our committee, and we rent walkie-talkies just because it’s a lot easier than texting and calling when you’re at an event,” Snyder said.

Renting the radios is cheaper than purchasing, Snyder said.

“They’ve bought a few, and they have discovered that using them for a week and then not using them again for a year decreases the longevity of them,” Snyder said. “It’s cheaper to rent them even though it may not seem like it; in the long run, it is.”

3. Student Government $114,873.36

Biggest line items:

  • Salary + Benefits for Student Government Advisor $58,821.36
  • Event management costs $8,320
  • Finance Director Scholarship $9,100
  • Presidential Scholarship $9,200
  • Vice-President Scholarship $6,100
  • Speaker Scholarship $4,400
  • Website $3,972

Student Government, unlike many other campus organizations, pays for its own adviser.

“Paying for our adviser sets in stone someone who can further our day-to-day operations, meet with us — kind of know what’s in the new for Student Government and if there are any questions that we have pertaining to administration or what resources we could get to,” said Student Government Treasurer Kit Clayburn, senior in animal ecology.

Without the salary of the adviser, clerks and the scholarships for chief officers, the budget for Student Government is $24,182.

The salaries alone cost each student $3.03 this academic year.

The event management allocation of $8,320 is primarily for live streaming the weekly Student Government Senate meetings. The line item is the salary for Memorial Union audio and video technicians who coordinate the weekly YouTube live stream, which is archived on the YouTube channel for playback.

“The main reason we live stream is so students if they want to, can see what’s going on in Student Government,” Clayburn said. “If they can’t go to the meeting, they can look that up.”

2. AfterDark $139,709.24

Biggest line items:

  • Entertainment $110,000
  • Bingo and Prizes $7,000
  • Printing $6,000
  • Advertising Other $5,000

AfterDark is an alcohol-alternative event primarily funded by Student Government. Additional funding sources include $7,500 from the senior vice president for Student Affairs and free Panda Express for attendees paid for by the event funding board.

Printing and advertising are the primary ways that students learn about the events. CyRide ads, Instagram and Facebook boosted posts and residential mailers tell students about the events. Additionally, posters and signboards have been proven effective for increasing attendance to the event, Kristen Heimgartner, senior in event management and president of AfterDark, said.

According to Jim Brockpahler, Maintenance Shop and entertainment programs coordinator, AfterDark covers about half of the year for entertainment.

“Usually what happens is AfterDark covers about a semester worth of Great Hall performances, and SUB covers the other half, so it’s kind of an equal partnership to bring those in,” Brockpahler said.

The notoriety of the Great Hall entertainment acts is important for the success of the events, Heimgartner said.

Joshua Weissman performing for ISU AfterDark Nov. 12, 2022. (Joseph Dickin)

“We’ve found that the more money we have to put for this event, the cooler the people we can get and the more students come to the event,” Heimgartner said.

Great Hall entertainment and approximate attendance for AfterDark this semester:

  • August 26: 3,900 attendees
  • Ivan Pecel
  • Eduardo Franco
  • Sept. 30: 2,000 attendees
  • Jonathan Burns
  • Steve-O
  • Nov. 11: 1,400 attendees
  • Grandma Mojo’s Improv Comedy
  • Joshua Weissman

1. Student Union Board (SUB) $185,457

Biggest line items:

  • Music, Comedy, Multicultural $120,000
  • Cyclone Cinema: Operating and Special Screenings $42,000
  • Advertising $9,500
  • General Printing $8,500

“SUB is ISU’s campus programming board, bringing in events, activities and concerts hopefully that appeal to a broad range of their fellow cyclones here on campus,” Brockpahler said.

As mentioned above, SUB covers about half of the funding for the Great Hall during AfterDark. With the $120,000 entertainment budget, SUB also hosts concerts and comedy in the Maintenance Shop and various multicultural events.

“It’s insane how much these performers cost to bring in,” Brockpahler said. “The prices have really skyrocketed since the pandemic for who’s available, who’s performing and how much they come to your campus for.”

Brockpahler estimates that about $80,000 to $85,000 is spent on AfterDark, $15,000 on comedy, $10,000 for multicultural events and $10,000 for the Maintenance Shop.

SUB is also in the last year of its contract with the Student Government allocating $125,000 annually. The contract has not been used in full in recent years but does assist with larger events such as Cyclone Voice and WinterFest.

SUB receives supplemental funding from the Memorial Union to pick up costs that Student Government will not fund, such as uniforms and salaries.

The Inter-Residence Hall Association also supported SUB to the tune of $15,000 for Cyclone Cinema, which is added to the $42,000 allocated to SUB.

With one film showing left this semester, Cyclone Cinema has hosted 2,823 attendees. Through 12 showings, that is an average of 59 patrons per screening or 235 patrons per weekend.

The Maintenance shop has seen 619 attendees through 7 shows, with two remaining shows this semester.

Like AfterDark, posters and signboards have been effective for the organization, which total an allocated $18,000 for this fiscal year, plus an additional $2,500 advertising carryover from the fiscal year 2022.