Let’s Finance Guidelines
Editorial

The Finance and Appropriations Committee has an immense responsibility: allocating funds toward activities that benefit Georgetown students. As it stands, the obligation to balance the supplementary funding needs of existing groups, new organizations that need a helping jump start and capital improvements that advance the quality of student life is handed to eight Georgetown University Student Association senators who do their best to remain unbiased in the fulfillment of their responsibilities. The discretionary nature of the criteria used by the committee, however, results in fundamental uncertainties, to the detriment of student life.
In light of a significant year-on-year variability in allocated funding, the Fin/App Committee ought to consider replacing its discretionary model of criteria for a rules-based, publicly available system.

This would do much to reduce the unpredictability and lack of clarity in regard to how funding needs are fulfilled. Although less accommodating to emergencies, a rules-based system overcomes the major credibility problem that the committee currently faces. Under a discretionary framework, this committee is unable to credibly commit to any future action that will result in an optimal outcome for student life. Consequently, on-campus organizations are unable to adequately plan in the event their funding is substantially reduced. The combined result of this is clear: Organizations request the highest funding deemed appropriate, while the committee grants the lowest amount that still allows the organization to continue to operate. This is not an optimal outcome.

The current discretionary system does have some advantages. It allows senators to allocate funding to emergency capital expenditures, such as the one currently needed for Kehoe Field. In its commitment to maintain a strong culture of competition in Georgetown’s club sports teams, the decision was made to allocate $185,000 to the Advisory Board for Club Sports — an increase of $33,200 from the 2016 fiscal year. Additionally, the Media Board was allocated $95,000 — representing a $40,000 increase from the committee’s Fiscal Year 2016 allocation — because of the board’s improved budgeting efforts and the committee’s own recognition of the importance of print media for Georgetown’s campus.

Nevertheless, this discretionary allocation criteria binds the funding concessions that can be made to other on-campus organizations in often unpredictable and unclear ways. The large increase in ABCS funding, for example, was a result of capital projects made necessary by deferred maintenance — something that in a rules-based system could be given a weight and addressed before it becomes an unavoidable necessity.

The justification for the funding increase given to Media Board also lacks specificity. The committee’s decision to increase funding by 72.7 percent for fiscal year 2017 reflects a consideration of the changing nature of print journalism, the rising cost of providing free newspapers to students and the essential nature of newspapers on campus to student life. On the other hand, the Georgetown Program Board saw an 11.3 percent decrease from last year’s allocation, because of, as reported in the Student Activities Budget Report for fiscal year 2017, “tight budget constraints and critical funding requirements for other aspects of student life.” There seems to be little comparability between these three funding allocation decisions.

The criteria that a rules-based system ought to take into consideration is not difficult to envision. The number of students affected by each additional funding dollar, the comparative marginal return to every funding dollar granted and the alignment of organizations’ goals with those that best serve the student body are a good starting point. While such historic metrics are important, forward-looking criteria are also necessary so that funding is not restricted to the same set of groups or causes. Future impact and room for growth must be taken into account.

Every year a new Fin/App funding report is released, and every year the committee is faced with the same question: Why did you allocate $X to group Y and not $X to group Z? A rules-based system would do much to clarify, determine and improve how funding decisions are made.

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One Comment

  1. Owen Coffin says:

    While I agree that it is a nice thought to have guidelines based off this articles suggested “marginal return model”, anyone who has taken a class beyond intro-Econ would recognize this is incredibly hard to envision. How does one calculate how many students are affected by a dollar of funding? What’s the return to someone who attends a Mask & Bauble show vs. one who performs in it? What is the return for a student who has friends in Club Sports vs. someone who is the captain of a team? What is the return to a student who attended a Lecture vs. one who had a deep conversation about the speaker but did not attend? The editorial board also fails to remember that many of these organizations are mission driven bodies, it is difficult to quantify their contributions to students in terms of numbers. How much more is a dollar worth the a SAC club who gets $200 a year or to one whose budget is $4000? What if the first club is 10 members? What if the larger club is 500 members? Not to mention the complexity involved in constructing any utility model based of additional dollar spent, let along one with endless tiers of student programming and student involvement. I wish it were easier, but as you can see it’s much harder to envision these guidelines than you have suggested with a few economic terms.

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