The nitty-gritty on how student fees are distributed
Every semester UH students pay a “student services fee”, $260 for Fall 2019, that supports various campus and student life departments and organizations. Though the fee is the same for all students, there’s a thorough process that decides which organizations get which amount of money.
The Student Fees Advisory Committee, made up of seven students, two faculty and one non-voting adviser, has the responsibility every year of recommending the amount of funding each organization receives.
“These are direct student fees that have to be used correctly,” said Student Government Association President Allison Lawrence. “They have a lot of power, I would say, and a lot of responsibility.”
SGA appoints members to the committee, and Lawrence said this role is not taken lightly. SFAC has a foothold in the path the University heads toward, Lawrence said, and she’s confident their members are ready for the job.
“It’s a really important job that they have,” Lawrence said. “Obviously it needs to be taken with a lot of weight because it’s so much money that comes in from students.”
This semester SGA appointed two two-year and one one-year student positions to the committee: electrical engineering junior Aristotle Economon, biochemistry junior John Asamoah and finance graduate student Cameron Barrett.
“We thought that they had a really broad perspective and covered a lot of ground,” Lawrence said. “Having a lot of knowledge over these departments that are applying for funding and just really understanding the funding structure of the University is extremely vital to the committee.”
At the end of September, SFAC gives fund-requesting organizations questionnaires, budget forms and guidelines. Then in October, SFAC has a full week of day-long deliberation meetings where the organizations present their previous accomplishments, future strategic goals and make their case about why they should receive funding.
Lawrence said these are quite long and thorough presentations. SFAC members have to fully pay attention and understand, and ‘be kind of critical in some ways and really look at how a department is spending their money.’
“Are they underutilizing their resources? Are they overspending? Maybe they had a bad year or maybe they’re doing great,” Lawrence said are some things members must keep in mind through the deliberation process.
It’s important for SFAC members to have criticisms for departments, Lawrence said, but they also need to remember to understand where a department is coming from.
“You have to put that into the context of the whole University and figure out where they fit in,” Lawrence said. “Everyone sitting on this committee has to have a really good grasp of what direction the University is heading in and what students really prioritize that their money should be spent on.”
There are a lot of factors that go into the funding decision process, but Lawrence said the biggest one to consider is what’s overall helping UH students the most and putting the University on the right path.
“When you’re deciding, ‘Should I fund X over Y?’ you have to have some type of reason and that usually comes from ‘What’s the long term goal of this person, and how are they going to accomplish it? How is this money that I give them going to fund this?’,” Lawrence said.
Before deliberations, new SFAC members receive a comprehensive orientation that’s ‘designed to familiarize them with SFAC’s operating and budget procedures.’ SFAC presidential faculty representative Nouhad Rizk, an associate professor in computer science, said that the process is professional and transparent.
“The Student Fees Advisory Committee ensure they are operating in an effective way to meet their goals and responsibilities’ plays a very important role,” Rizk said.
Rizk is in the second year of her two year appoint to SFAC and said that she’s happy to be involved with a committee that directly serves the University.
“I am really enjoying the opportunity to help students outside the academic framework,” Rizk said. “Moreover, I developed a significant level of expertise about the campus budgeting policies and processes.”
Once the deliberations are over, SFAC gives their recommendations to the Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Services and the President, usually around the week of Thanksgiving break. With this, SFAC also sends a recommendation for the amount the student services fee should be for the following year.
“Their recommendations directly affect campus life and the futures of many departments and programs,” Rizk said.
Correction: The story used the incorrect pronouns for Nouhad Rizk, and these have since been updated.