Activities fee increase based on improper metrics

Tartan Board Oct 28, 2012

Student Body President for Finance Jon Mark, along with student government’s Executive Branch, is petitioning to raise the student activities fee by 25 percent, or $24 per semester.
This is a well-meaning cause in theory — student organizations would greatly benefit from more money. Organizations have been hit hard with cutbacks in their budgets, and the reported $272,000 extra revenue from a fee increase would do wonders for student groups.

However, the intention is where the good part of this proposed increase stops. The reasoning and statistics Mark cites in the various documents he emailed to students on Thursday are vague at best.

For example, Mark ties the student activities fee to the the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and argues that the CPI has increased by an average of 2.4 percent per year, while the number of student organizations has increased by about 10 percent.

Mark claims that this is one of the main reasons for cutbacks and why groups are forced to do more with less. However, the CPI is used to calculate inflation in the economy: The Bureau of Labor Statistics determines the average cost for a bundle of household purchases, and the resulting CPI represents the changes in the prices of these average purchases.

The purpose of Carnegie Mellon’s activities fee is not to pay for these average household goods; it’s to print flyers, organize concerts, and bring petting zoos to campus, among other activities. As a result, the CPI is an inaccurate model for price increases and a bad measure for estimating the increase of prices in materials and goods that student groups actually buy.

Similarly, according to Mark’s own graphs in his presentation, the actual revenue student organizations bring in has remained relatively unchanged since 2010. Why has the Joint Funding Committee (JFC) continually set, as Mark put it, “large fundraising expectations” on student groups when they haven’t been able to meet said expectations? The JFC should have understood and adjusted for the obviously unrealistic fundraising expectations it is putting on student groups.

For example, in the 2012 budget, the overall expected revenue of groups was about $900,000, yet the JFC requested $1.2 million in revenue. That $300,000 difference is huge and suggests that the JFC does not understand how student organizations operate and what they can realistically accomplish.

Moreover, why has the JFC allowed the Committee on Student Organizations to acknowledge so many groups — an estimated 300 by the end of this academic year — when JFC members have known for years about limited funds?

Carnegie Mellon is vastly improved by having such a diversity of organizations and avenues for students to get involved, but there is a current redundancy in the missions and goals of numerous student organizations. We acknowledge that student government has been working toward combining student groups to avoid such overlap, but this should not have even become a problem in the first place.

JFC ultimately needs to change the budgeting process and metrics. Until this happens, organizations will still have budget issues that need to be resolved.

The increased student activities fee would be immensely helpful for the student organizations on campus, but the proposal of the increase must be based on relevant data and realistic expectations. Additionally, current efforts to reduce costs and eliminate redundancies must be pursued more strongly.