Forum

Tiered activities fee required for different students

The Joint Funding Committee (JFC) finalized student organizations’ budgets this past week, giving us an opportune moment to talk about everyone’s favorite subject: money.

If you’re not involved in any clubs on campus, you might think that JFC allocations don’t affect you, but we argue otherwise. The Student Activities Fee is currently $95 a semester (that’s $190 a year), and a large portion of it is allocated to JFC, which in turn allocates it to student organizations. The newly elected student body vice president for finance wants to increase that fee by 20 percent.

If you haven’t looked at the budgets that just came out, we encourage you to do so. Anyone with an Andrew ID can view them at stugov.andrew.cmu.edu/budgettracker. The site isn’t well-known outside of the world of student activities, but we figure if students are paying $184 annually, they might as well know how that money is being put to use. This year, the JFC allocated a total of $1,120,719.36 to 203 organizations. That’s a lot of money, and that’s just the Pittsburgh campus.

The problem with the activities fee is that it’s the same across the board. All students — undergraduate and graduate students both in Pittsburgh and Qatar — have to pay that same activities fee, whether they use it or not.

While it would be impossible to establish fees directly proportional to an individual’s involvement in clubs and campus activities, setting the same activities fee for undergraduate, graduate, and Qatar students is unfair. If you look at the JFC budgets for this year, it’s clear that Carnegie Mellon’s Pittsburgh undergraduate population takes the most advantage of the activities fee. In fact, an increase in the fee would be a good thing — for undergraduates. It would allow more organizations to be recognized and to get the budgets they really need to do exciting things on campus.

An increase in the activities fee would not, however, benefit Qatar or graduate students as much. Qatar hardly ever uses its entire allocated activities fee, and the surplus isn’t used immediately for the benefit of students but instead goes into the Qatar Foundation. Similarly, while graduate students on the Pittsburgh campus may participate in their own organizations as well as the same clubs and activities that undergraduate students participate in, they depend primarily on individual departments for event funding.

In 2009, a Campus Conversations report conducted by Student Activities found that 29.2 percent of students polled on the Pittsburgh campus wanted the activities fee to remain the same. On the Qatar campus, 77.5 percent of students polled wanted the fee to remain the same. When students were asked about the maximum increase they would support, the overwhelming responses were either 10 percent or 0 percent.

If the activities fee must be increased, measures should be taken to differentiate among undergraduates, graduates, and Qatar students. It’s time that the fee was separated into different sections, with Pittsburgh undergraduates paying one fee, graduates paying a different fee, and Qatar students also paying a different fee. This way, the fee can be utilized in the specific ways that each group needs. After all, the student activities fee should be just that — for the benefit of the students.