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Volume 72, Issue 95, Monday, February 19, 2007

News

SFAC convenes for 2008 budget

Committee of students and faculty to allot funding for campus organizations that are supported by student fees

by KELSIE HAHN
The Daily Cougar

The Student Fees Advisory Committee is poised to begin consideration of student service fees for fiscal year 2008 Tuesday in open hearings regarding student fee-supported organizations and programs on campus.

"This is an open process," William Munson, dean of students, said. "Students have a significant impact on the allocation of these funds."

Vice President of the Student Government Association David Rosen said his office nominates students for five of the nine seats on the SFAC who are then put to an up-or-down vote before the SGA senate early in the fall semester.

"We have to make sure the group is diverse along cultural and gender lines," he said. "Out of dozens of committees we appoint students to, this is probably one of the most important and the most time consuming."

Tradition at UH has held that of the four seats allotted to the president's choice, he or she appoints two faculty and two additional students to the committee, Munson said.

"Since this is dealing with the student fees, it seems appropriate that the majority should be students," he said.

The committee is always chaired by a student, with hotel and restaurant management junior Jeremy Ruth holding this year's top position. None of the appointed students can be compensated student leaders.

The SFAC's recommendation is the first step in the rigorous approval process for student service fees. The committee will write a recommendation to be submitted to President Jay Gogue, who will then present a recommendation to the UH System Board of Regents.

If a great enough difference exists between the SFAC and the presidential recommendations, the chair of the SFAC may request to discuss the reasons for the difference with the board before a final decision is made.

Munson said the students on the SFAC play an important role in the determination of student service fees.

"In this process, students are the people that are making the decisions," he said. "Students ought to feel that these budgets are scrutinized more, probably, than any other budget on campus."

SFAC members go through multiple training sessions prior to the hearings in February, Ruth said.

"We go over what the plan is of the administration, their outlook on the next couple of years and what they're trying to do," he said.

Munson noted that students on the SFAC making the recommendations will also pay the fees they set, which brings an added incentive to ensure student money is going to student priorities.

"They're paying the bills themselves," he said. "They don't want other students to pay for what they don't think is important."

During the presentations, organizations are asked to present their accomplishments of the previous year and outline priorities for the coming fiscal year. The groups are asked to submit data to illustrate their contributions to students.

"(SFAC members) are really looking at how effective (the organizations) say they are," Munson said.

The SFAC also looks at how important the functions of the groups are to the student body when deciding what kind of funding they should allocate, Munson said.

The projected enrollment for fiscal year 2008 will play a major role in the amount of money the SFAC budgets. The committee budgets with money from a smaller enrollment than expected to ensure there will be no mid-year crisis if income from the fees does not meet the budget requirements, Munson said.

The office of the Vice President of Student Affairs submits a report on predicted enrollment for the coming fiscal year to the committee, which then must decide on a budget accordingly. 

Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Administration Diane Murphy said enrollment predictions are made with the use of a formula based on previous enrollment and expected trends.

After subtracting considerations such as salary increases and allowing for students who may receive exemptions on their tuitions or fail to pay off debt, the SFAC is given a proposed total budget to work with.

"It's not real complicated, but it does take a lot of ‘what-ifs,'" Murphy said.

If enrollment is significantly below the numbers used in making the budget, the SFAC must re-adjust allocations mid-year to avoid spending at a deficit.

"SFAC has been conservative in the actual headcount utilized in making recommendations for allocations of the student service fee. There has not been such a shortfall since 1991," Murphy said.

Munson said any money left over for a fiscal year goes back to the next year's committee to be re-allocated.

Although SFAC deliberations on the budget requests are closed, the initial hearings are open and time is allowed for public comment.

Ruth said the committee would appreciate having more student involvement during the hearing process.

"It would make our job a lot easier if we had a good perception of what the students want," he said. "They should speak up about it ? their voice will be heard."

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