Limited SGA funding causes some orgs to fundraise, outsource money to make up for budget deficit

The Student Government Association's deadline for spring semester funding is Nov. 1, but some student organizations are still struggling with budget deficits. Photo illustration by Andy Caress

Hannah Eason, News Editor

Anya Sczerzenie, Contributing Writer

With the deadline for student organizations to request spring semester funding on Friday, many are still struggling to make up for the money they weren’t allocated earlier in the semester.

For the fall semester, the funding for student orgs was cut by 20% due to a budget deficit. The Student Government Association, or SGA, determines the money allocated to student organizations through the Student Activity Fee and enrollment.

SGA Chair of Appropriations Xaneya Arroyo is hoping that the Student Activity Fee, which supports student organizations and publications, will raise. Photo by Alessandro Latour

SGA Chair of Appropriations Xaneya Arroyo said that due to a drop in enrollment, the allocated budget for student org funding was cut by 20%.

“That’s why more student orgs this year may have seen from our annual or fall semester funding that they haven’t gotten as much as they have in previous years,” said Arroyo, a junior international business major.

The Student Activity Fee is used to support student activities such as concerts, plays, student organizations and publications. The fee ranges from $4 to $90 depending on the student’s campus, credit hours and housing. Arroyo is hoping the fee will be raised.

“In the flowchart of how VCU’s money is breaking down, there just hasn’t been as much funding as there has been in the past,” Arroyo said. “I think that that is a huge deficit, especially since we’ve been getting the same activity from students for a long, long time. So I think it’s time for change. I really do.”

For full-time undergraduate students, the Student Activity Fee is based on what campus they attend. For Monroe Park students with private and on-campus housing, the fee is $90. MCV students are charged $36. Others, such as graduate, masters and doctoral programs, have lower fees ranging between $36 and $56. Students who live off campus do not have to pay the fee, according to the VCU 2019-2020 budget.

Colleen Connolly of Catholic Campus Ministries said the organization still receives school funding, but it decreased significantly this year.

“Our funding has been decreased by a couple thousand dollars,” Connolly said. “We do a free Sunday supper every evening that’s open to all students and not just our club specifically, and as long as we push that enough, we’re not being hit as hard by [funding cuts].”

Connolly said the organization may have to forgo some of the events it has had in the past due to funding cuts.

“We have had a conversation recently about trying to fundraise,” Connolly said. “I know some bigger events like our haunted house may not happen this year because funding is not up to par.”

Vivek Kuruvilla, who served as SGA president last year, said that SGA recently changed its system of allocating funds in order to “make sure everyone got a piece of the pot.”

The change encouraged student organizations to budget their spending for the year instead of the semester, and the funding limit for each org is based on the budget created at the beginning of the year. Budgets outline expenses such as operational, travel and program funding and planning for the year rather than per semester would give organizations access to a larger amount of money.

“It was to simplify [the process],” Kuruvilla said. “It was to make sure that orgs add more access [to funding].”

Kuruvilla, who is a fifth-year mechanical engineering student, said the process involved a lot of work with their internal appropriations bylaws.

“It came with all the best intentions,” Kuruvilla said. “I’m not sure specifically how it worked out from an individual student org perspective, but it came with the intentions of trying to make sure every single org had access to the resources that each other had.”

Many student orgs, like the Italian Club, say they are struggling with funding and the new RamsConnect system.

RamsConnect, an online space for student organizations, departments and community partners, can assist organizations with event planning, campus involvement and financing.

In their first semester of receiving funding, the Italian Club’s president, Virginia Moore, said they have already experienced problems with the new RamsConnect system.

“We deal with budgeting through the student office, which has been difficult,” Moore said. “They’ve redone the system, and it’s a whole new layout.”

Moore said her club — which has about 40 members — was listed in RamsConnect as having requested $4,000 for the fall semester. The website later listed that $3,000 was granted to them, which Moore says was more than they needed.

“We were very happy with that amount of money, and we planned our events,” Moore said. “Our most recent event was a cooking night where we divided into teams in the kitchen, one team cooked cacio e pepe and the other cooked carbonara. There was a judge, but mostly it was a night where we cooked, ate and hung out together.”

The night after this event, Moore said she logged into RamsConnect to request reimbursement for the event costs and saw that the amount of money in the club’s account had decreased to $320.

“There was no apology, no notification that they’d even messed up,” Moore said. “They just said we had that amount of money until we didn’t. Each event is about $300, so we don’t need $3,000 to run three events [per semester], but it would have been nice for them to admit their mistake and try to fix it.”

Moore said that two weeks later the club has not yet received the reimbursement they requested for the cooking event. Before the club received funding from the school, she said they had to pay for events like this out of pocket.

“We’ve had some issues with registering too,” she said. “This entire new system isn’t understood by users.”

Ellaiza Antonio, sophomore and vice president of the Asian and Pacific-Islander Student Alliance, or APSA, said her organization has had trouble getting funding from the school because of its small size and lack of a treasurer.

“Right now, we’re not getting any funding at all,” Antonio said. “The other board members and I feel like the smaller organizations don’t get enough funding, and that kind of hinders them from growth.”

APSA has about 10-20 members. Only three members are on the board of the organization.

“Another thing is that with RamsConnect, it’s hard to keep organizations registered,” Antonio said. “Smaller organizations have to do more work for their group in order to stay registered on RamsConnect.”

President of the Student Veterans Association James Grubb said his org saw a 20% cut to the money that was requested. Grubb said to make up for the money, the club has turned to fundraising and local organizations such as Veterans of Foreign Wars, Epic 360 and the Richmond Kickers.

“We were told that funding from the SGA was a lower amount this year than usual and granted what they could,” said Grubb, a senior political science major. “We were lucky to have the SGA really understand our requests”

This semester, SGA helped with all of the club’s general body meetings and about 50% of their events. Grubb said they also received their funding later than usual, around a month after the deadline for approval.

“We weren’t sure if we had any funding at all,” Grubb said. “It got to the point that our faculty advisor started contacting SGA to see what was going on. As a student org, we never received a reply from SGA, whether about funding or anything else.”

The VCU chapter of Virginia21 — which has about eight members — gets some funding from Virginia21, but Chapter President Adam Lockett says that it is limited. He said he heard similar things about SGA funding.

“You can apply for things like funding and reserving space on campus,” said Lockett, a junior graphic design major. “But I did not go ahead and apply for any SGA funding, because in the past, I’ve been told it’s going to be very limited.”

Virginia21 is a nonprofit that provides information about voting, elections, safety and economic opportunity.

Some clubs, such as the VCU Cycling Club are funded completely by VCU Rec Sports.

“We feel comfortable with the amount of funding we’ve received this year and don’t have any current plans to fundraise,” said club president Alex McClanahan.

Not all organizations at VCU are funded by the university. For example, the VCU chapter of Planned Parenthood Generation Action is funded by a grant from Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, according to the organization’s president Malena Llamos.

The last day for student organizations to register for spring semester SGA funding is Friday.

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