ASG budget twice as large as estimated

Admin estimate sets funds at $783K, including $415K in surplus

A graph showing total budget (solid black), the revenue from the Student Activity Fee (dashed red) and the balance of the surplus fund (dotted blue). All data was provided by Allegheny College.

The Allegheny Student Government will be working with a budget twice as large as previously thought, in what will be the body’s second largest amount of available funds since at least the 2016-17 academic year. According to information provided by the college’s administration, which maintains financial records and access for ASG, the estimated budget is $783,177 for the college’s student groups.
“(ASG’s) budget this year, as it is right now, will be close to $200,000 more than what they spent last year — even with fewer students,” Ellen Johnson, vice president for enrollment management, told The Campus last Friday.
Last year, ASG had a budget of $992,786, of which $577,402 was spent. The near-million-dollar fund was fueled by a surplus of $532,529 from previous years.

Of fees and funds
The body’s spending comes from two main sources. The general fund is funded by the “Student Activity Fee” — a $290 charge applied to all students enrolled at Allegheny — and provides for clubs’ regular operating costs as well as special finance requests related to those operating costs.
In the 2021-22 academic year, an enrollment of around 1,575 students in the fall semester translated to $460,257 in SAF revenue. This year, an estimated enrollment of around 1,350 is expected to result in $368,000 in funding. Despite the drop in enrollment, Johnson said that the college is focused on growing the student body over the next few years, which would similarly raise ASG’s revenues.
“Where we’ve put an immense amount of effort as an institution today, and into the future, is to grow our enrollment back up into that 1,500-1,600 range over the next couple of years,” Johnson said. “We’re looking both in terms of new student recruitment, but — I would say even more importantly — retention and the student experience to ensure that students, once they’re here, have a wonderful experience and are retaining to graduation.”
The other main source of ASG’s finances is the surplus fund, which consists of all the unused funds from the previous year’s administration. This fund is used for “capital expenditures” — uniforms, equipment and other long-term club investments.
The surplus fund rolling over from last year to this year will be $415,384, according to Johnson.
These numbers are far more positive than the tone taken by ASG President Veronica Green, ’23, in an email to club leadership in early August. In the email, which told clubs they would be receiving an average of around 36% of what they requested, Green cited the smaller enrollment and reduced revenue from the SAF as the reason for a much smaller budget.
At the opening General Assembly of this year on Aug. 31, Green set the budget at $380,000 from the SAF and said she was still waiting to hear information about the surplus fund from Linda Wetsell, college’s chief financial officer and vice president for finance and administration.
While Green called the previous year’s administration “secretive” about finances at the body’s first public meeting, the 2021-22 ASG did publicly discuss much of their spending. Based on weekly finance reports, the body’s Office of the Treasury reported $511,713 in spending last year — around $60,000 less than the official figure provided by Johnson. Using minutes from past public meetings, enrollment data, and the set SAF, The Campus previously estimated the previous year’s budget to be between $964,000 and $987,000. Subtracting the public spending numbers from that budget yields an estimated surplus of just over $450,000 — a figure closer to the actual number than ASG’s initial expectation that the surplus would not be available.
When the forecasted size of the budget came up at the most recent public meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 6, ASG Vice President Rudra Schultz-Ray, ’23, gave an estimate of $580,000, which Green said would be affirmed at a meeting with college administration on Monday, Sept. 12.
“Our general fund is roughly $380,000, and the surplus fund is $200,000-something,” Schultz-Ray said.
“We’ll have more confirmation on Monday, but this should be the budget presented,” Green added.
After the meeting, Green said the $200,000 figure came from Interim Dean of Students Trae Yeckley, who confirmed the sourcing in an interview Wednesday.
“I was estimating very, very conservatively, and I own that,” Yeckley said. The numbers that actually were shared with me were closer to the ($415,384). The numbers I originally gave her on the rough estimate, were not close to what the actual numbers are.”
Yeckley, who is in their second week as ASG’s adviser, was not aware of the actual surplus when they gave Green their estimate.
“I gave it a really low-ball estimate that was not anywhere near (the actual number),” Yeckley said. “I’m glad that she gave the lower-end estimate just because I’d rather be under than over.
Wetsell said that since her promotion to CFO in 2013, she has always communicated ASG’s budget numbers in the fall.
“If I missed something with communication in the summer, a special request, then I guess I apologize for that,” Wetsell said. “But to me routinely we would report to ASG in the fall. There’s not a lot of activity going on in the summer, so for us that would have been unusual.”
Wetsell explained that she normally looks at what remains as last year’s surplus and allocates new funding based on the size of the new student body on “Count Day” — the semester’s 11th day of class. On this day, the year’s enrollment — and thus the size of ASG’s income from the student fee for the year — is formally determined. This year, Count Day will be Tuesday, Sept. 13.
“That is the same process that it has been historically, so nothing has changed this year in the timing,” added Johnson.
Green will be meeting with Wetsell and college President Hilary Link on Monday, Sept. 12, to discuss the budget and other issues.

“A very big lag”
Speaking to The Campus on Thursday, Sept. 1, Green pointed to one possible factor in the confusion over the ASG budget. The previous ASG admin, she said, did not provide any financial information during the transition, to the point of having to reconstruct records from various disparate locations.
“We’re still paying bills from last year at the moment,” Green said. “To be honest, I think there was a lag in us even knowing the estimated budget, and there’s certainly a very big lag in us knowing the surplus fund budget, simply because we’re still figuring out what happened last year … We’re working with information that I found on the Google Drive and randomly throughout (the ASG) office because it seems like there’s no center point where previous administrations held their information.”
According to 2019-20 ASG President Jason Ferrante, ‘20 — who worked on the body’s budget for three years — much of the transition from administration to administration relies on what he called “institutional knowledge.”
“The budget procedure can be a bit complicated, and it can be ad hoc at times,” Ferrante said. “It’s set up at the discretion of the president and the finance director, and there can be a lack of regularity that can come with that. Information sharing is always going to be a pinch point for student groups.”
During budget hearings last spring, Green said that ASG was expecting to have around $400,000 to $500,000 in its budget and learned midway through the break that the number would be much smaller.
Citing the summer estimate of $380,000, Green noted that the figure was much less than had been expected.
“($500,000) is obviously not what we’re working with,” Green said. “We had to do a lot of adjustments mid-summer, when we found out what our estimated budget was going to be — which we didn’t find out until mid-to-end July.
We had to do a lot of adjustments to club budgets to make it so we weren’t spending all of our funding within the first couple weeks.”
Based on the $380,000 estimate, ASG awarded clubs a little over a third of the amount they requested for their annual operating costs. According to budget information sent out in early August, clubs requested $382,105 — up from $324,483 last year — and were allocated $140,155 — down from $187,200 last year. Green says the increased budget requests were likely the result of ASG approving most financial requests last year.
“We saw that shift in club budget requests where, two years ago a club might have only requested $2,000 but this year they requested $12,000 because they were like, ‘well, we spent $12,000 last year,’” Green said. “Club programming is great, and it’s very ambitious and people have a lot of great ideas. However, it’s very costly and I think genuinely people just got used to us having the money to say yes. Now we do not (have the money).”
Clubs can use finance requests to ask for more funds than they receive in their budgets, though receiving more funds is not guaranteed.
Due to expectations of a smaller-than-usual budget, ASG passed new financial guidelines at their first GA to limit spending. Those guidelines require that clubs cover 30% of the cost of certain events and trips through fundraising or out-of-pocket contributions from club members. Once a club has raised 30% of the cost, ASG will provide the remaining 70%. This fundraising policy applies to all off-campus trips, conferences and any event over $4,000.

Should there be a cap?
In the Sept. 1 interview, Green also said the college administration was “trying to push policies that we can only take 40% (of the surplus fund) and not the whole thing in the rollover.”
“This is information that was passed on in the transition report, that the (college) administration believes ASG is receiving too much money for how little students we now have on campus,” Green said. “They believe that, if we are not utilizing all of (the surplus fund) within the year, that they should have privy access to that funding.”
However, the administration said last year’s funds will not be trimmed in the transfer to this year’s budget.
“I don’t think there’s any intention that that surplus goes away at all,” Johnson said. “The surplus is funding that was already allocated to ASG and they will continue to roll that over. It’s an ASG decision how much of that they want to spend. We as the institution are not dictating how they use that surplus, and that is not going away.”
Johnson did point out that much of the revenue from the SAF was subsidized by the college, as many students pay the fee using Allegheny-funded scholarships.
“Of our total student body, our average discount rate is about 69%,” Johnson said. “69% of that $290 (fee) is college-supported money. 31% is what the students are actually paying.”
Green said that such a distinction does not matter — in her eyes, the school is still receiving $290 per student for ASG and those funds are allotted to ASG. She also warned that restricting ASG’s funding would reduce student retention and hamstring the college financially.
“I think whether or not the administration sees it themselves, ASG and ASG clubs are how they are going to retain students,” Green said. “A lot of students left it during the COVID semesters and never came back because we weren’t doing anything, because we were all stuck in our rooms and we felt very lonely. I personally see a direct correlation between student programming and student retention. I don’t know if the administration sees it the same way but I personally have strong opinions on us keeping that surplus fund in its entirety.”
Johnson said that finding out what keeps students at Allegheny starts with asking the students themselves.
“We want to know what the general students want,” Johnson said. “Do they feel like they are getting the student experience from ASG-funded activities? To me it’s really more about if the students see that as a good use of their funds and support.”
Johnson also noted that ASG does not hold a monopoly on the student experience, and that other groups within the college community also build the “Allegheny experience.”
“I think that is also sometimes a misconception that students have, that the only money going towards student programming comes out of ASG,” Johnson said. “Student Engagement, Leadership, Student Life in general actually also has an operational budget that supports a lot of student activities and student life things that happen on campus.”

Moving forward
The exact impact this larger budget will have on already-allocated club budgets is unclear. After being presented with the surplus number following the GA on Sept. 6, Green said that reallocating any budgets would require action from the larger ASG body.
“If most of that money is coming from the surplus, the senate would have to vote to move the money from the surplus to our general fund,” Green said. “Then from the general fund, we can reallocate budgets according to how much they vote to move.”
Ferrante cautioned against the idea of the surplus drastically changing the spending situation for student organizations.
“In my time in office, we tried to treat the surplus fund not as a piggy bank, not to bail out the ASG budget, but for ongoing projects and capital funds,” Ferrante said. “We tried not to dip into it, but also tried not letting it get too big, because then we’re not upholding our fiduciary responsibility to the student body.”
He also said that student organizations require good-faith interactions between groups, something made much more difficult by the pandemic.
“These are still students making these decisions,” Ferrante said. “There has to be trust on both sides. Students have to learn how to trust ASG, and ASG has to learn how to trust clubs. There’s a lot of trust in the system, and there’s a multitude of things that can strain that — like COVID — and it can take time to build that back up.”
The good news is that ASG will have more than twice as much money as student government officials thought just a month ago. The less good news is that the confusion about the exact size of the surplus leaves uncertainty about whether or not the larger budget will trickle down to student organizations.