More than $300K in student activities fund likely to go unused this semester

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TPN file photo

Student Government Board during an October meeting.

By Nathan Fitchett, Senior Staff Writer

More than $300,000 in the student activities fee fund — which is financed through students’ tuition — will likely go unused this semester, as clubs continue online programming during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aboli Kesbhat, the chair of Student Government Board’s allocations committee, said SGB has received 26 requests and allocated $33,800.75 so far this semester with $344,564.08 left unallocated. SGB received 172 requests and allocated $298,075.04 in fall 2019, the last full semester before COVID-19 hit.

The student activities fund is financed through an $80 fee in every student’s tuition. This fee was reduced from $100 at the beginning of the semester in anticipation of reduced student activity spending. SGB is in charge of allocating this pool to fund University-affiliated student organizations’ operations.

University spokesperson Kevin Zwick said Pitt and SGB will reevaluate the amount students will pay in their spring semester tuition after the fall semester is over. Ben King, SGB’s vice president and chief of finance, said the board has recommended the University keep the fee at the reduced $80 next semester.

King, a senior communications and political science major, said one of the main reasons why allocations requests have dropped off is because the pandemic has made it difficult for student groups to host activities that would be eligible for SGB funding. According to new allocations guidelines, SGB can only fund events that follow all University health and safety guidelines.

Some student organizations were allowed to meet in person starting in mid-September, but following the University’s shift on Monday to the Elevated Risk posture and a campus-wide shelter-in-place order, student groups are now prohibited from meeting in person.

King also said the allocations requests that SGB does end up receiving are for significantly less money due to the nature of virtual events.

“A large proportion of what we end up spending on is things that aren’t happening because of coronavirus,” King said. “Travel is a lot of the expenses, and related things like lodging and food end up being some of the most expensive things, as well as in-person events.”

King said while there’s been a large dropoff in the amount of money that clubs requested this year, this isn’t the first time there’s been leftover funds.

“It’s significantly less [funds requested this semester]. It’s not just a little bit,” King said. “This won’t be the first year that there will be a bit of a surplus. There’s already a fund set aside, and that’s under the discretion of the dean of students and we can petition for it to be used for various purposes.”

The leftover money from the student activities fund is distributed to a reserve fund each semester, which Student Affairs oversees. If SGB runs out of student activities money in a given semester, they can make a request to Student Affairs to tap into the reserve fund to cover additional expenses. King and Kesbhat both said they don’t know how much money is in the reserve fund. The reserve was used this summer as seed funding for the Student Emergency Assistance Fund, which allows students to request up to $600 for emergency items, such as medical necessities.

Kesbhat, a junior neuroscience and psychology dual major, said SGB is trying to make sure student groups know there is still plenty of money available for events. Kesbhat said liaisons from the SGB allocations committee are assigned to different student organizations to let them know how to request funds. She added that liaisons suggest ways students groups can use the student activities money during the pandemic, such as holding virtual events.

King said he thinks the problem this semester wasn’t a lack of awareness of the available money, but a lack of activities for clubs to spend it on.

I think the real ‘problem’ is that there is just not really anything for student organizations to spend money on at the moment, given all the limitations and moving targets this semester,” King said. “It’s not that organizations are not looking to SGB for money, it’s that they really aren’t spending it at all.”

Kesbhat said even though the total amount allocated is small, she is pleasantly surprised with the amount of requests SGB has received so far.

“I thought, at the beginning of this year, we wouldn’t get any requests,” Kesbhat said. “But we’ve still been getting requests, students are still using some of that money to put on programs and events even though they look a little bit different.”

Despite the reduced number of requests and events held this year, Kesbhat said she still appreciates that some student organizations are still making an effort to hold events amid the pandemic.

“It’s nice having student groups still actively working toward having events,” Kesbhat said. “And it’s nice to see them coming to allocations so we can support that.”

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