Each semester, full-time undergraduate students have to pay a student activities fee that is included in their tuition bill. The amount this past year was $260, which goes directly to creating the budget for the Office of Student Engagement.
“Our budget is usually between $1 million to $1.1 million. It depends on the final number of students that are enrolled here,” John Bennett, director of student engagement, said.
This student activities fee is adjusted every few years in relation to tuition costs. The previous amount was $250 per semester, but in 2015 the fee went up four percent. That four percent was raised to fund the operation budget for community service projects.
“That is why we always say that our events are really meant for full-time undergraduate students because those are the ones paying the fees,” Bennett said.
Discussions about how to use the student engagement budget to effectively meet students needs happen between the office and students, especially student government and their executive board.
“We know students want to go to broadway plays and sporting events. We’ve put out surveys in the past, and this is what students told us is important to them which is why we are doing it. It’s a combination of student government and social life commission to make a wish list of shows and games, and then seeing what is available and realistic,” Bennett said.
For example, part of the reason that the office sells tickets to New York Jets football games as opposed to New York Giants games is because the latter franchise does not offer group tickets.
Once all of the on and off-campus events are decided, it is up to the students to decide what they want to attend.
“I would say that out of the majority of the student body there are three types of students: there is the student that doesn’t attend any events at all, there’s the student that attends every event and then there is the third student that attends Manhattan Madness in the fall and Spring Weekend and that’s it,” Bennett said.
Jackie Staino, a junior at Manhattan, believes that the student engagement fee is fair but because she is a commuter student she finds it hard to take advantage of the events they have to offer.
“Being a commuter is hard when events happen, especially when you live in New Jersey, because of traffic and tolls. For example, say if an event is at night but you finish classes in the morning, where will you go the whole day? It just gets to be a hassle sometimes and I tend not to go to events.” Staino said.
Out of the overall $1 million budget, certain events automatically have money earmarked for them. These events are considered to be big ticket items and include Springfest, Manhattan Madness, Jasper Jingle, Senior Events and Spring Fling. These events take up a majority of the office’s overall budget, costing about $600,000.
Also that $600,000 includes money for Family Weekend and what student engagement calls the “first six weeks budget.” This budget of about $100,000 accounts for events that occur during the first month and a half of the school year in the fall semester.
“That is why you typically see more events take place in the first few weeks because we are planning those over the summer to ensure when students come back they have opportunities to make new friends and meet people, to make sure they are involved on campus. That is why that budget is really important to us,” Bennett said.
Once all that money is taken there is approximately $200,000 remaining that is allocated to all of the clubs.
Each year clubs are required to submit detailed proposals of their ideal budget, what that budget is going to be used for and what club events are anticipated to cost. Student engagement then sits down with members of student government to decide what the club budgets are going to be.
“If every club got every dollar of the budget they proposed there would be no Spring Weekend, there would be no Manhattan Madness, there would be no funding for Latino Fest or any of those kinds of events,” Bennett said. “That is why everybody’s budgets get chopped down a little bit.”
Bennett said that is also why student government has a difficult time and a long process of accepting new clubs on campus. The more clubs there are on campus, with the overall budget remaining the same, each club is going to have an exponentially smaller amount.
Over the winter intercession, student engagement and student government sit down and have a meeting analyzing where they are with all club budgets.
“For every club that is over their budget at the time there is one that is under and didn’t spend as much. We try to reallocate and not penalize the clubs for going over because also that is a positive, it shows their doing things,” Bennett said.
Bennett said that there are two items that almost all clubs use a large portion of their budget on: t-shirts and pizza.
“That seems to be the winning formula for attendance,” Bennett said. “For Manhattan Madness, we take unofficial attendance by handing out t-shirts at the door.”
Bennett said that students seem to be happy with how much they are involved with the decisions that are made in the student engagement office. Just a few weekends ago the student government executive board attended a conference in Chicago with other student leaders from across the country.
“Our students came back very happy with how involved they are and how much input they have,” Bennett said.