NCSA forced to make frugal financial choices
The New College Student Alliance (NCSA) started out the semester with significant financial concerns. With recently assessed administrative fees, which they had not paid previously, and a decrease in the projected student enrollment, the NCSA reconsidered how to best spend their budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. Since the previous administration sets the budgets for the following year the current cabinet members do not make any adjustments to specific budget lines. President Donal O’Shea approves the budget once it comes to him in the spring semester. Typically the actual dollar amount does not fluctuate much year to year.
“This year they budgeted a total of $249,490.19. Last year was $250,822.44. It usually is [similar] each year,” Dawn Shongood, the coordinator for administrative services for student government and student affairs, explained. Shongood manages the budgets for revenue collected from the Activities and Services (A&S) Fee, the Green Fee and the Athletics Fee. Revenue from the A&S Fee funds the NCSA, the Student Allocations Committee (SAC) and the Council of Academic Affairs (CAA), revenue from the Green Fee goes to the Committee of Green Affairs (CGA) and revenue from the Athletics Fee goes to the Fitness Center.
Every year in June, Shongood receives a number of projected billable credit hours from the Finance and Administration Office. She then bases the budgets she manages off of that estimate.
“I take the billable credit hours that are given to me from the Finance Office and then I convert that into how many students that accounts for me to base my budgets on,” Shongood stated.
This June, she received a projected number of 28,000 billable credit hours. This equates to 700 students when Shongood estimates each student per year having 40 billable credit hours. Shongood included that in the past the Finance and Administration Office provided her with a higher number. Last year, she received an estimated 32,000 billable credit hours for around 800 students. While 28,000 billable credit hours, or 700 students, does not accurately reflect the current enrolled student population, the budgeting works with estimated numbers made before the academic year starts.
“I like that [Kim Bendickson] gives me a low number, because if we get anything above that 28,000 billable hours then we’re doing good,” Shongood said, with a hint of optimism.
With this projected number, Shongood advised the NCSA to remain frugal in their spending and allocations. Thesis student Eva Ernst, vice president for relations and financial affairs (VPRFA), has worked on the ongoing budget considerations since she arrived in the fall.
“This budget was approved before the admissions numbers were released to us,” Ernst explained. “We were working with a budget for expected students. So now that that budget has been passed and students are here at lower rates than we expected, we have to sort of retroactively put caps on things.”
Ernst worked with Shongood and other members of the NCSA cabinet to consider certain budget lines on which they could place these retroactive caps. For certain areas, like the Resident Advisor (RA) Discretionary and Guest Speaker Allocations, the school has agreed to cover remaining funds which the NCSA no longer pays for. Furthermore, other areas have received similar funding cuts without any school compensation. The Palm Court Party (PCP) funds received decreased financial support, with the NCSA providing the money for security costs while cutting the total amount they give for bands or decorations.
Ernst explained that some changes have not been finalized yet. The NCSA has requested to President O’Shea that the school pay for the Graduation Celebration fund, which provides food at graduation each spring. O’Shea has shown some reluctance at this request, but Ernst stated that she will continue to work towards transferring the responsibility for those funds. Ernst also stated that the NCSA has looked into having the school pay for a portion of the Catalyst funds. She has received information from various sources about the past budgets for the Catalyst, but wants to further consider increased funding from the school.
“We’re basically trying to get the school to pay more for the Catalyst,” Ernst said. “It’s something that’s been around for years and years and years. We don’t understand why the students have been having to pay for this for this long.”
Finally, the SAC and CAA received provisionary spending caps in the hopes that they will underspend.
On top of insufficient revenues from a decreased projected enrollment, the NCSA recently started paying for an administrative cost which they had not previously needed to pay. In May 2017, Cheikhou Kane, VPRFA at the time, and Vice President of Finance and Administration John Martin made an agreement to implement an administrative cost on the A&S fee revenue. The school agreed to subsidize a large portion of this cost, so instead of $28,000, the NCSA would pay $8,000 each year. This administrative cost would help offset the money lost from tuition waivers, which the school provides to students in the form of scholarships. While the agreement at the time assisted the NCSA in funding guest speakers, covering salaries for student workers in the Jane Bancroft Cook Library during exam periods and other educational programs, Ernst had no prior knowledge of this agreement until a few weeks into the 2018-2019 academic year and she feels it could use some adjustments.
“It’s in the process of renewal right now,” Ernst explained. “I’ve sat down with John Martin and I’ve emailed him and I said, ‘This was for 2017-2018, do we need to renew this before we can enact these same changes this year?’ And he said, ‘That’s a good idea, I’m going to go in and write up a new draft and then you can come in and talk to me about it.’ So we’re basically reshaping the plans and agreement that Cheikhou made with John Martin.”
This August, the NCSA had to pay the $8,000 administrative cost. Accompanied with the news about the decreased projected enrollment, this set them back even further. Ernst expressed her concern about the lack of communication between successive NCSA administrations, and stated, “I didn’t even know that that existed until several weeks into this semester. We’ve been working with no passover documents from previous administrations. Basically I’ve been slowly meeting everybody that I need to be in touch with and slowly piecing things together like a puzzle. So it’s a really slow process unfortunately to get everybody on the same page.”