AS Reserves Reach Beyond $1.5 Million
Statewide budget cuts are affecting many departments on campus, luckily the Associated Students is not one of them. While federal funding supplements many things like athletics and faculty paychecks, the AS gets their funding exclusively from the student body they represent. That's right, those little $19 green stickers that students buy fund major activities like scholarships, clubs, and maybe most importantly, the Big Blue Bus.
The Associated Students has a very large amount of cash to work with, which is collected exclusively from the student activity fees. $19 collected from nearly 40 thousand students equates to nearly $600,000 a semester, and the AS has the authority to save unused monies for later use. According to Student Trustee Cameron Henton, of that $19, only $10 is mandatory. $5.50 of that $10 goes into an investment account, while the other $4.50 goes into the operating budget. The remaining $9 goes toward paying for perhaps the most widely utilized resource at Santa Monica College, the Big Blue Bus. The AS pays over nearly $450,000 annually for our free rides.
Of that nearly $600,000 raised a semester, the AS has an operating budget of $250,000. This is used on clubs and scholarships that are relatively easy to receive. Aside from the operating budget, the AS also has an investment account which serves as an emergency fund for situations such as paying for the Big Blue Bus if students don't buy their stickers en masse. This is a rollover account that gets saved and currently holds a ledger balance of nearly $900,000 built up over the past few years.
To the knowledge of the current AS, this emergency fund has rarely if ever been utilized and never in the ground-zero way it was intended to be. Students almost always pay the AS sicker fee.
On the SMC student self-service website, there is an option for students to pay their fees online. The fees assessment lists five fees: enrollment fee, being the total amount charged per each student's individual course load, student ID card fee, being $13 for the plastic and the picture service, Health Fee, being $14 for not even having a nurse practitioner on site, Parking-Ride Share Fee, being $20 (for those who receive a BOG Fee Waiver), and ASB Member-limited Fee, being a flat fee of $19. Selecting the "pay all fee's" option will automatically pay the Student Activity fee and the full $19 unprompted, even though only $10 is mandatory.
In fact, nowhere on the Student Self-Service website does it prompt for only the mandatory fee, and instead presumes the full $19 as standard. A trip to the Bursars office resulted in the same answer, a mandatory student services fee of $19.
However, the admissions website indeed lists instructions for opting out of the fees, stating that "students wishing to opt out of the optional ASB Membership fee or the Student ID card fee can request, in-person at the Bursar's Office or at Admissions, that these fees be removed, but must do so within two weeks of the start of the term."
Just as unsettling is the fact that the California Education Code states that the Student Body Center Building and Operating Fee "shall not exceed one dollar per credit hour, up to a maximum of ten dollars." Other Community Colleges set their student activity fees well within this range. Cerritos College in Norwalk sets their fee at exactly $10, and while their parking fees, health fees, and other state-funded fees have gone up as a result of cuts in state funding, the non-state funded student activity fee has remained the same.
Los Angeles Valley College sets their fee at $7, and no fee increases have taken place in any state funded area despite budget cuts. These colleges do not get complimentary bus rides, but the AS, who sets the fees, has stated themselves that the $9 bus fee is optional since it is not state funded, while the Bursars office maintains that it is mandatory and must be opted out of in full, in person. So, the college isn't forcing us to pay the full $19, they're just making it a hassle not to.
With so much money at their disposal, the AS is able to provide opportunities for students that go well above and beyond those of many other surrounding Community Colleges. At the AS Finance Meeting on Monday, the AS approved nearly $1,400 for the Night Sky Project, an innovative opportunity for students to do real research with the National Park Service about the effects of light pollution that will be used to attempt to pass laws changing high-pressure sodium white bulbs in streetlights to low-pressure sodium orange lights. $38,000 was recently allocated for study-abroad scholarships, while major money was given to club activities to support a campus-life experience unlike any other Community College in Southern California that can continue unaffected by current economic situations.
"[The budget cuts] are not specifically affecting the AS in the sense that we receive funding from the state because we don't. It may affect us indirectly if students don't have the money to pay the sticker fee, but so far that hasn't happened," said David Chun, AS President.
The funding for administration and funding for students really is two completely separate realms. The students pay for their activities, while the state essentially pays for the buildings. The students' education really is in the hands of the students, and while it would seem reasonable that the school would supplement the AS with funds of their own, quite the opposite is the case. The school actually asks the AS for money, maintaining that students' education stays in the hands of the students. A proposed Presidents Circle Ambassadors Program for Fall 2009 was not approved by the AS seeing as "the program was representing the President and not the Student Body, hence the funds should come out of the President's own PR fund" according to Wendy Hermosillo, AS Director of Sustainability.
The grand total of AS cash in every fund and every account equates to at least $1.5 million, with money actually able to be spent totaling at least half that, all thanks to those little green stickers. Election Row promises free ice cream to everyone who votes, not possible without AS funds. In conclusion, the amount of money spent at yesterday's finance meeting, approximately $13,000, the AS operating budget for the semester alone, $250,000, the fund the Cayton Center has set up exclusively for itself, $375,000. Knowing that we're getting free pizza at Club Row and loving every minute of SMC life because of little green stickers and an extra ten bucks...priceless.