An inside look into how student money is spent

By Caitlin Kennedy October 23, 2019

We have officially reached the halfway point of the semester. This tends to be one of the busiest times of the year for students, and that is no different at the Union. Very soon, the Executive Board will begin club budgeting for Fiscal Year 2021.

For your reference, the money that the Union uses for clubs and facilities comes directly from the Student Activity Fee that every Rensselaer student pays as part of their tuition. This year, the fee was $361 per semester, with this money going directly from students into the Union budget.

From there, it is our job as the Executive Board to allocate this money. Activity Fee funds are used in the upkeep of the day-to-day operations of the Union, which includes supplies for printing, supplies for clubs, and other necessities. This money is also used to fund the Clubhouse Pub and the ongoing facilities upgrades in the Union, the Mueller Center, and the RPI Playhouse. Each year we plan for small facilities upgrades like updating lights or improving the Wi-Fi in the Union. We also put money aside each year into an account to save for much larger projects. Many clubs also utilize this saving option if they know they will need equipment that costs a lot of money.

The budgeting process starts with clubs. Clubs outline the events they’ve scheduled for the following fiscal year, and once clubs come up with their events, they meet with their assigned Executive Board representative. Their E-Board representative will review the events and their feasibility against our defined policies (For reference, all Executive Board policies can be found here in the Rensselaer Union Guidelines and Procedures.). E-Board reps can also help turn these programs and items into a budget on the Club Management System.

During this process, clubs should also meet with their Student Activities Resource Person. SARPs are professional administrative staff whose sole job is to help clubs. They are stationed in the Admin Office and their employment is funded by the Activity Fee and Union budget. During my time as an E-Board rep, I reviewed all of my clubs budgets with the club officers and their SARP in one meeting. The SARPs have a detailed history of each club and are knowledgeable on everything club-related.

The SARPs will also review a club’s budget to make sure program codes are accurate. Reviewing these for accuracy is very important for us because each code is a different account that helps us run reports and report back to you how we are spending your Activity Fee.

During the final budgeting weekend, the Executive Board meets in the Union for two or three days straight vigorously reviewing every line of every budget. It is our job to be fair and equitable in all of the decisions that we make. We take this responsibility very seriously and we stay until we believe we have it right.

This can be a very taxing process, which is why it is so important that clubs are in contact with their E-Board representatives. Your rep is your voice during budgeting. They vouch for you and the things you say you need, so it is critical that they understand your club. Once we have finished our reviews, budgets are released back to the clubs. This year, budgeting takes place on December 9–10.

It’s evident that our budgeting session is the culmination of a lot of work. One thing we have to do at the beginning of this process is to predict how much money we will have to spend in the next fiscal year. As I said, we use Activity Fee dollars to fund the Union. The amount of money we get directly relates to the number of students we have every year RPI. This is a tricky number to predict, especially since we have to estimate the number of incoming freshmen. We also have to guess the number of transfer students and the number of students who will not return to RPI.

The total number of students also changes with each semester, especially since Arch has been implemented for sophomores and juniors. This is problematic because we don’t receive the Activity Fee from spring tuition until the Spring Semester, so we must carefully plan and balance all of our events.

It is a team effort to come up with a final number. In order to do this, I met with a group from RPI’s finance department last week. This group included Vice President of Finance and Chief Financial Officer Barbara J. Hough, Assistant Vice President of Finance and Budgeting Helen Grzymala, Financial Analyst Louise Ann Griffin, Union Business Administrator Martha McElligott, Director of the Union Charlie Potts, and Vice President of Student Life Peter Konwerski.

This team helps us come up with an accurate student count. From there, we determine what the per-student Activity Fee for next year will be, and multiply these numbers together to get our target number for budgeting. Clearly this process can be quite complex and I appreciate the willingness of the Division of Finance to meet and gather this information as soon as possible. We will continue to stay in communication throughout this process to ensure issues are solved during budgeting, and no new issues arise after budgeting.

I hope this gave you a little bit of an insight into everything that goes on before we allocate funds to our clubs. As always, if you have any questions please feel free to reach out to me at Good luck with the second half of the semester!