ASOC proposes $20 increase to student fee

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The Student Leadership, Involvement and Community Engagement (SLICE) office, where ASOC handles student fees, at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. Jasmine Mack/The Occidental

Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) Vice President of Finance Jordan Walker** (junior) proposed an increase in the student fee at a Senate meeting Nov. 4 to support growing funding requests from the student services funded by Senate. ASOC Senate supports twelve student services* — including the Bengal Bus, the Green Bean and La Encina yearbook — and allocates each a portion of the budget to pay their student employees and other operational expenses. This proposal follows 2018’s $18 student fee increase, which adjusted for the rising minimum wage. Walker proposed a $24 increase Nov. 4, but after working with the Sustainability Fund and Diversity and Equity Board (DEB) to decrease their request, a $20 increase over two semesters will be going to ballot Nov. 20–22.

Walker oversees the ASOC budget, apportioning funds to each student service based on past and projected spending. He said that various student services have discussed increasing their services.

“For example, KOXY has been requesting more money to to do more regular campus concerts and to allow them to book artists that more folks would recognize,” Walker said. “Programming board had a successful FallFest this year, and homecoming was such a great event because so many students were able to partake.”

Walker said ASOC is a nonprofit organization because their services are entirely student-funded and student-run. According to Linda Schraeder, ASOC’s finance manager, each portion of the fee is allocated to different services.

“There are three buckets of the student fee. If you look on your student billing account, you’re going to see the Senate fee, which is $150 per semester, and then you’re going to see the Diversity and Equity Board fee, which is $10.75, and then you’re going to see a Sustainability fund fee which is also $10.75,” Schraeder said. “That money is actually what ASOC is. That’s our operating budget.”

Schraeder said predicting the correct amount to allocate to each service for the next school year can be a difficult task because of factors such as student enrollment. According to Walker, budget estimates are based on a conservative estimate of 1990 students, but 2,055 students are currently enrolled.

“December graduations have increased,” Schraeder said. “It went from five students graduating early in my first year and now we’re up to 20, so it’s pretty significant. Spring [enrollment] ends up being less than what we have for fall, and then in the budget, you have to average that just right.”

According to Schraeder, other factors involved in forming the budget include unexpected gifts from donors, rising minimum wage (which was the cause of the 2018 student fee increase) and institutional changes.

“It’s always a moving target and it’s not an exact science, but we have to set budgets before the end of the year,” Schraeder said. “So that’s why we use data like this to see the difference between organizations’ projected and actual expenditure. This was the case with club sports and the Bengal Bus, for example. Think of a scale: you have your income, and you have your expenses. At the end of the day they have to be equal.”

According to Wafa Abedin**, ASOC vice president of Internal Affairs, student services have already had to make adjustments to their offerings because of the shortage of funds.

“KOXY used to play music on the quad every week, but they’ve had to conserve their labor for their bigger events. [All these services] want to be bigger and better,” Abedin said. “There’s interest in a service called OSCAR for composting in dorms. If there’s any interest in them becoming an official student service, we have to come up with the money to pay them.”

According to Schraeder, student employee wages are among the larger expenditures on the budget. She said students at larger universities often do not get paid for student leadership and involvement, and this is one of many things that makes Occidental unique.

“I know other institutions’ clubs have to fundraise for everything and that’s their source of income for programming. They don’t get to go to a Senate to apply for funding,” Schraeder said.

According to Abedin, student responses to the proposed fee increase are generally positive.

“People ask why, which is good, because ten dollars is ten dollars,” Abedin said. “Once we tell them it’s to increase student services, they’re usually on board.”

Walker also clarified some misconceptions that some students have regarding the ASOC budget, including those who said that the school should absorb increasing student service costs.

“A large portion of the school’s endowment is contractually obligated to go to certain things, whereas these are extracurricular student services run entirely run by students, things that students have voted for,” Walker said. “The school’s responsibility is to provide an education and related support services. ASOC is a nonprofit entity separate from the College.”

Schraeder, too, said that allocating funds to a club is not as easy as students may believe.

“I hear ‘Linda said no’ quite a lot because I said ‘no’ to a certain expense. But we are governed by California laws for being a nonprofit. So there are many by-laws and accountability practices we need to follow,” Schraeder said. “It’s not just ‘Linda said no,’ it’s ‘California law said no.’ And I have said ‘no’ to administrators as well.”

As for future years and expenses, it is uncertain whether the fee will continue to increase.

“I do anticipate that over the years the fees will always go up slightly with tuition, just like inflation,” Schraeder said. “But we have been pretty conservative. Before the last increase, it had been a while.”

Since ASOC Senate manages services that students opt for, its budget depends on students’ choices when they vote.

“Looking forward, it’s going to [depend on] the relationship students and services have with one another,” Abedin said. “If students see that they are benefiting more from Student Services and they want to expand yet again, they will support it. But if the expansion doesn’t benefit the students in any way, I don’t see the student fee increasing again.”

Walker emphasized that none of the revenue the fee generates is being pocketed by anybody except student workers who are paid by it. He said the student fee is only intended for the benefit of students.

“Through SpringFest or concerts or the newspaper each week, it’s money that will ultimately be returned to them,” Walker said.

* The Occidental is a student service which receives funding from student fees payed to ASOC

**Walker and Abedin have resigned from their Senate positions effective Nov. 25