MCSG OverZoomer: FAC cuts org budgets in preparation for enrollment decline

Rebecca Edwards, Managing Editor

At this week’s MCSG meeting, Financial Affairs Committee (FAC) Chair Ayushi Modi ’20 announced that student organizations can expect significant budget cuts beginning next year. 

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent economic fallout, the FAC expects student enrollment to decline by approximately 200 students. A drop off this steep would greatly impact MCSG’s operating and capital funds, which are derived from the $230 student activity fee. If the FAC’s estimation is correct, the financial loss would amount to $33,200. 

Student orgs requested a total of $204,461 from MCSG’s operating fund for next year. Modi predicts MCSG will only be able to provide $159,263. 

“So, we need to make cuts,” Modi said. “And if we did an across-the-board cut, it would have hit all orgs at about 37 percent, which is an incredibly high number… and it would have hurt orgs that budgeted for $500 more than orgs that budgeted for $10,000.”

To ensure equitable distribution of funds, the FAC instead opted to apply an array of budgeting rules across the board. Those rules include cutting funds for all nonessential travel outside of the Twin Cities, bringing food budgets from $10 per person to $7 per person, capping honorarium fees at $500, cutting all funding for hosting alumni events, halving the costs of printing for all publications except The Mac Weekly, cutting funds for orgs to host events more than once per week, and cutting the flexi fund from $200 to $100. 

Additionally, all orgs slated to receive $501 or more will have their budgets cut by 8 percent. 

With those cuts in place, the operating fund will have only $208 left over for orgs to appeal for additional funding. Modi expressed that she is not yet sure how the appeals process, which is slated for next week’s meeting, will be conducted this year. 

“I’m wondering where you got the idea that enrollment would drop,” Academic Affairs Committee (AAC) member Karinna Gerhardt ’20 said. 

“In a recession, which we’re in right now, enrollment tends to drop,” Modi replied. “There might be people who would have supported the students entering college whose jobs are gone or income is being halved, or students who can’t support themselves anymore—that’s what we’ve tried to reflect here.”

FAC member Hannah Gilbert ’21 responded as well.

“I would add that we really wanted to make sure we were making a cautious estimate here,” Gilbert said. “We’d rather plan for less money and, surprise, end up with a little more, than have it go the other way.”

The Legislative Body (LB) moved to a discussion of their proposed COVID-19 Relief Bill. The bill would allow MCSG to donate the money they have received from student orgs who are no longer meeting this semester and MCSG’s travel fund to donate to the Financial Aid office’s Emergency Aid fund, to which students can apply to receive emergency financial support.

That accounts for an approximately $49,000 donation so far. The LB hopes to receive additional funding from Macalester’s Program Board, which could be another $50,000 donation by itself.

As of Friday, March 27, 20 students had already applied for a total of $22,000 in aid. 

“Once we hear back from [Program Board Chair Alex Ang ’22], we’re anticipating to make close to a 100k donation,” MCSG President Blair Cha ’20 said.  

“However, we were also going over options as to whether to donate parts of the reserve fund now, or if that will make it hard for MCSG to operate and deliver our responsibilities to sustain student organizations,” she continued. “I support the FAC’s recommendation that we keep the reserve fund for now because we’re going to eventually donate 100k, but I wanted to get your opinions.”

AAC member Austin Wu ’23 urged caution. 

“The [Emergency Aid Fund] is not just a COVID-19 relief fund,” Wu said. “It’s designed for emergency expenses that will continue to happen throughout. If we donate money that doesn’t get used, that stays in the financial aid office and does not come back… that’s one of the inherent dangers of overspending on this, especially given the rather extreme cuts the FAC has already had to make.”

Ang echoed those concerns regarding Program Board’s donation.

“Speaking for [Program Board], I know it seems like we’re not doing anything, but we just have a procedure for all these things,” Ang said. “Obviously we have the money, but we’re just being really careful with how much we give… because if all the money isn’t used this semester, is it just going to be Financial Aid’s?”

“I don’t see a problem with the money staying in the fund if we give too much,” Student Services and Relations Committee member Shreya Nagdev ’22 said. “This crisis isn’t going to end at the end of the semester… and this one hundred thousand dollars that we’re proposing will probably get used up, based on the 20 people who’ve already applied.”

Nagdev motioned to vote on the proposal to donate the $49,000 raised so far, which passed unanimously.

The meeting also included a brief presentation from Health and Wellness Medical Director Steph Walters and Counseling Director Liz Schneider-Bateman regarding mental health at Macalester. 

Walters and Bateman advocated for a systemic approach to mental health services that prioritizes urgent access for emergency situations and equitable access for all students. They expressed ongoing work in cross-communication with other departments on campus to create a culture of mental health promotion.

“One of the challenges that I think we face in terms of culture change is taking a look at what we are willing to let go of in order to make space for prioritizing self-care and prioritizing our own mental health,” Schneider-Bateman said. “Stop the glorification of busy.”