As enrollment grows, UND Student Government in charge of growing student fee pot
When campus tour guides would walk by the UND Student Government office three years ago, then-Student Body President Kylie Oversen can recall them telling prospective students two things. "They'd say 'This is where you can get your cab card and y...
When campus tour guides would walk by the UND Student Government office three years ago, then-Student Body President Kylie Oversen can recall them telling prospective students two things.
“They’d say ‘This is where you can get your cab card and you can get free newspapers,’” Oversen said. “And then they’d move on.”
Fast-forward to today and Student Government officials say they’re still struggling with ditching that perception.
“We want to let students know we’re more than a bus pass,” Student Body Vice President Brett Johnson said.
The organization is charged with providing programs and services paid for by student fees.
In fiscal year 2014, more than $600,000 was budgeted for programs and events organized by Student Government and its various divisions - 78 percent more money than it managed five years ago, according to budget documents.
“That’s a lot of money students have the most control over,” Oversen said. “They can really do a lot of good or a lot of nothing with that money.”
The amount in the Student Government budget has grown steadily with UND’s enrollment, as the money is collected from each student paying fees.
The money subsidizes student rides on Cities Area Transit - and at one time reduced cab fare - pays for events such as rapper Wiz Khalifa’s appearance at the Alerus Center this past spring and for annual programs such as Monster Patrol, which sends out student volunteers to watch over trick-or-treaters on Halloween night.
The services and events are used by thousands of students each year but getting those students to recognize that Student Government spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide them is challenging for staff.
Most of the services are placed in the Student Government budget each year, but not all of the fee money is corralled into line items. Some of the money remains unassigned and is at the discretion of Student Senate to spend.
This year, student senators had about $75,000 to use for events, programs and other items funds were requested for through bills, according to budget documents requested by the Herald. From 2010 to 2013, that amount ranged from about $5,000 to upwards of $50,000.
It is these funds that have the potential to become a source of controversy.
Last school year, a bill rewritten to provide the UND Indian Association with $2,000 for its community buffalo feed that accompanies the annual Wacipi powwow was vetoed by then-Student Body President Nick Creamer.
A $20,000 line item in the Student Government budget for the Wacipi was agreed upon by both organizations the previous year and UNDIA should have sought other funding sources in the meantime, Creamer writes in the April 7 veto.
The debate over funds created a social media storm surrounding the hashtag #fundthefeed with some tweeting the decision was fueled by racism while others said they stood by the conservation of student fees.
Other bills that have drawn crowds to senate meetings - which often see small audiences - include proposed funding for large events or for student trips involving a large amount of money for a small group of students.
Some events either started or funded by Student Government do go on to have a communitywide presence.
Former Student Body President Tyrone Grandstrand points to the Big Event, an annual one-day volunteer event that puts thousands of students out in the community to complete tasks such as cleaning or painting.
“It’s a big positive that’s hard to see unless you’ve watched it happen,” Grandstrand said.
The Student Government money blends into the millions of dollars in fees students pay each semester that support health, technology, career and other services provided on campus.
In 2011, the state Legislature passed a bill requiring the North Dakota University System to publish a breakdown of student fees online. The move followed concerns universities weren’t being transparent about student fee expenditures.
On the university system’s fee estimation website, a student attending UND would expect to pay $26.52 per semester to Student Government. That total reflects two fees, one for the organization’s fees account and one for its projects account.
Trying to get students to understand what this money is used for is easier said than done.
“I think there is always the question of where is that money going,” Johnson said. “At least on our end we try to make it as transparent as possible.”
In recent years, the student fee spending process for the entire university has been streamlined and tweaked to provide more student input.
In 2012, the Student Fee Advisory Committee replaced the University Fee Allocation Committee, which had operated since 1982. Six student positions are included in the committee charter, which also establishes the student body president as the chairman.
Moving forward, this year’s Student Government administration says it is creating a communication group to get a better gauge of student opinions, including how students want their fees spent.
“We’ve got such a short life cycle, it’s a different administration each year so you end up with different spending tactics, but the overall outcome is typically beneficial to students,” Student Body President Tanner Franklin said.