Editor’s Note: It’s time to reallocate the Student Activity Fee

Shreyas Banerjee, Executive Editor

This Monday, Feb. 20, the student body of Case Western Reserve University received an email that could have a significant impact on campus life. 

Coming from the chair of the Student Presidents’ Roundtable (SPR)—a group comprised of the heads of the major student organizations on campus such as the Class Officer Collective (COC), Interfraternity Congress (IFC), Panhellenic Council (PHC), Residence Hall Association (RHA), Undergraduate Diversity Collaborative (UDC), University Media Board (UMB), University Program Board (UPB) and Undergraduate Student Government (USG)—the email detailed proposed changes to the Student Activities Fee (SAF), as proposed by the Allocations Committee (AC). Though that is a lot of information, each organization has their own role and manages an important segment of student life. Let’s break it down further.

The SAF is a fee collected from everyone’s tuition—0.8% specifically—that is solely controlled by the student body and dedicated towards funding student organizations and activities on and off campus at CWRU. With everyone’s tuition, the fund usually amasses to around $1.3 million per semester which is then distributed to the clubs and events that need funding across CWRU. This is done by splitting it amongst all the umbrella organizations I mentioned—USG, UDC, UMB, etc.—so that those boards can then fund all the clubs underneath them.

But who decides how much money each board gets? That’s where the AC comes in. Each semester the AC disburses the SAF to these boards based on previously agreed upon percentages and then evaluates each board to determine whether they spent their portion effectively and efficiently. This way we can make sure that the CWRU student is getting their money’s worth by having the most amount of experiences and opportunities they can. However, these percentages have not changed since 2015, when UDC was added as a board to SPR and guaranteed a portion of the SAF specifically towards diversity and advocacy-related student organizations. Much has changed at CWRU since 2015, including the interests and overall composition of the student body. As such, how our SAF funding is distributed should also change with the times and meet the needs of our students today.

Before we get any further, I need to put a big disclaimer that aside from being the executive editor of The Observer, I am also the chair of the AC and the process of reallocating the SAF has been a huge project for me over the past few years. 

In my time at the AC I’ve seen how many clubs struggle to fund their basic expenses while other organizations struggle to use all the money they have. In the end, everyone wants to bring the most value to the student body by having the maximum programming possible, but it can be difficult to reach that goal when there are strict percentages governing how the SAF is allocated. Groups are getting this certain portion of the fund regardless of other changes. Since the SAF has never formally been reallocated without the addition of a new board to SPR, there was no precedent for conversations surrounding how to make distributions more effective and equitable. Now that has changed, with all the boards of SPR now agreeing on a new set of percentages that will hopefully better enable student activities. The process to get here was long but it was necessary. Here’s why.

To sell the proposed reallocations to all the SPR boards I’ve been using the mantra, “More money to more clubs.” Because in essence that’s what is happening here. The vast majority of clubs on campus are under USG and UDC, meaning that whenever mass funding comes along for either of those two boards, most clubs are scrapping over a limited amount of funds. When USG cuts budgets for clubs, it’s not because they want to but rather because they literally don’t have the money to distribute to their hundreds of organizations. USG has consistently funded clubs to the maximum extent possible, which is similar to UDC. With both boards growing considerably, especially with the student population of CWRU growing and more ideas for student organizations always sprouting, they need a larger piece of the pie.

These proposed reallocations will deliver just that, giving USG an 18% budget increase and UDC a 20% budget increase. With these changes, they’ll be able to distribute more of their own funds in mass funding to all student organizations underneath them. More money to more clubs.

However, this does mean decreases in allocations to other boards. What is important to remember here is that the SAF pool is always growing, especially since CWRU is a growing campus. The more students who come here, the more money goes into the pot as fees are collected. Additionally, tuition inevitably rises each academic year. While this is unfortunate for the most part, it is not unfortunate for the SAF. Because it makes up a set percentage of tuition, the SAF also increases each year, meaning the funds for students continually grow. While some groups are seeing cuts to their allocation, they might actually be making more money in the future than they are now, just due to the growing size of the SAF.

UPB, which receives the largest share of the SAF to ensure that concerts and events are successful, recently volunteered to cut their own allocation by 10%. There was internal concern that as the SAF grows, they may not be able to continually put on big enough programming events to spend their entire allocation. What they already do is difficult enough.

IFC/PHC, similarly, has always struggled to spend their entire SAF allocation as there are already so many other funding sources for Greek Life chapters, primarily from chapter dues and national dues. This has invariably led to a considerable amount of being left over by Greek Life each semester. Plans are being made to create a fund to subsidize dues for lower-income students using this leftover money, but the root cause of the issue is that they simply receive too much funding while other organizations are pinching pennies. As Greek Life participation has dipped during the COVID-19 years, this issue may become more acute. Thankfully, this is something they realize and as such they willingly agreed to an 18% budget cut.

UMB and COC have similarly agreed to 7% and 5% cuts, respectively, after discussion of historical spending patterns with the AC and the rest of SPR. And again, they’ll likely be getting similar levels of funding as before while the SAF continues to increase. While a proper balance of SAF distribution will likely never be found, this is a good step that will improve student life at CWRU.

Reallocation is a healthy process and should happen on a regular basis in order to ensure that the needs of the student body are consistently heard and satisfied. While this is just the first time it has happened, I anticipate that it will not be the last.

Though SPR has agreed to the motion, the AC still needs to vote on the proposed changes to the SAF. I’m hopeful that when it does and these changes kick in next semester, we will see a flourishing of campus culture, with clubs dreaming bigger and accomplishing more.


Shreyas Banerjee is the chair of the SEC Allocations Committee and is directly involved in the reallocation process.