Student groups struggle with funds

Evidence of organizations mishandling money has prompted reviews of how funding is dispersed.

by Anne Millerbernd

University of Minnesota students have annually given student organizations at least $1 million in recent years, but it’s not always clear how that money is spent.

Last year, one University student group investigated nearly $3,000 in missing funding, while another failed to keep many records of its financial transactions.

Now, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly is under investigation for about $93,000 in missing funds.

Problems with how student groups handle their money have recently sparked conversations about whether they can properly manage the thousands of dollars they receive in student services fees each year, and now both University administrators and the Minnesota Student Association have plans to review the fees process this year.

“I see the fees process as being a very imperfect process,” said MSA President Joelle Stangler. “It works in some ways and obviously helps support student groups, but there are a lot of faults with it.”

The University most recently reviewed the process for allocating funding to student groups in 2012. But in spring 2014, Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Danita Brown Young announced plans to go over it again during the summer.

Most University students taking at least six credits paid a little more than $400 last semester in student services fees, which went toward administrative units, such as Boynton Health Service and Student Unions and Activities, as well as registered student organizations, or student groups. This year, that fee will be slightly higher.

In 2013, the Student Services Fees Committee, which consists of students and faculty or staff representatives, allocated more than $2 million in fees to about 70 student groups. That funding helps cover student groups’ operating and programming expenses.

Each student group has its own membership hierarchy. In many cases, there is one member designated as the treasurer, who oversees the group’s funding alone or with the help of other members.

A new group of Student Services Fees Committee members decides the funding amounts each year, and half or more of the members must be new to the group, according to the Student Services Fees Request Handbook for Student Organizations.

The committee analyzes student groups’ funding proposals, which then go through two or three rounds of recommendations. The school’s administration and the Board of Regents then approve final amounts.

But some student groups say the committee members’ lack of experience can be problematic, along with an application that many say comes at a poor time for the organizations.

Groups submit their applications for the following year’s funding in January. But because many of them elect new officers later in the year, new leaders may end up using a budget they didn’t create.

“I don’t know what the ideal way around [the poor timing] is, but there’s got to be a better kind of [way],” former MSA Chief Financial Officer Quinn Jurgens said.


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