Budgeting for the Future

The 2016–17 budget gives graduate student resources a needed boost, but leaves the future of funding uncertain.

By Maroon Editorial Board

Student Government (SG)’s General Assembly convened on Monday to pass 30–4 a budget that substantially increases spending for line items targeted at graduate students. Last year, SG increased funding to such programs by $72,500. This year, that increase skyrocketed to $250,500, 86 percent of which will come from rollover funds (those left unused at the end of last year). According to the memo accompanying the budget, grad student fees constituted 33.1 percent of the total SG budget for 2015–16. Thirty six point seven percent of the 2016–17 budget is allocated to programs that benefit graduate students, compared to 29.9 percent in the 2015–16 budget. The increases to graduate student funding are pilot increases, which will give SG flexibility over the coming year to assess the financial needs of the Graduate Council (GC), the Graduate Council Travel Fund, and the Graduate Council Social Fund.

Executive Slate is confident that non-pilot programming increases will be sustainable because they are not coming out of rollover funds. Additionally, Slate anticipates that SG will cut back on unnecessary expenses and receive an annual budgetary increase of about $100,000 from the administration next year.

But what about the fate of graduate programs receiving pilot increases? The rollover funding presents a unique opportunity for SG to explore the demands for graduate programs, but it leaves the future unclear. SG president Tyler Kissinger said during Monday’s meeting that he does not foresee that GC, the travel fund, and the social fund will use all of their newly allocated money, since the increases are so dramatic. However, the chair of the travel fund, Haley Stinnett, argued that the newly allocated travel funds, which facilitate conference attendance and networking opportunities for graduate students, would indeed be put to use. She said this year’s travel fund has been completely depleted.

Graduate students, who make up two-thirds of the student body, deserve the bigger slice of the Student Life Fee (SLF) pie that this budget is giving them. The pilot program may reveal that graduate students need less than what is budgeted for, but what if they do end up using their full budgets, and the same amount of rollover funding is unavailable in future years? With this pilot program, Slate is putting pressure on the administration to rethink the way it allocates the SLF. It writes in its memo, “it is not clear that the amount of resources with which we have been provided has kept pace with the funding obligations expected of SG.” Unless the administration allocates a greater percentage of the SLF to SG in the coming years or increases the SLF, it is possible that the graduate programs will have to endure cuts.

SG does have some money to play around with next year (not all rollover funds are being used, and both College Council funding and the New York Times Readership Program are being slightly reduced), but not enough to promise long-term increases to graduate student funding on this scale. If this pilot year is successful, how can the administration ensure that graduate programs receive sustained increases without forcing cuts to undergraduate programs or hiking up SLFs? In its memo, SG suggests that it needs a greater proportion of the SLF going forward, and that the University should use other financial resources to fund health and wellness programs, including Student Health Services and Student Counseling Services, which are currently being funded by the SLF.

With this budget, SG is daring the administration to withhold the funding increases it seeks for the coming years. It is sending the message that the funding levels in this year’s budget will only be sustainable if the University diverts more of the SLF to SG and pays for other SLF-funded programs using alternative resources. Slate’s strategy may very well work, and perhaps it is time for the University to rethink how it allocates the Student Life Fee. However, using the SG budget as leverage over the administration could land next year’s SG in a tricky situation. Even though budgets are allocated on a year-by-year basis, Executive Slate and the administration should spell out a long-term plan for how graduate programs will be funded.

–The Maroon Editorial Board