The Ohio State Undergraduate Student Government commands a budget in excess of $100,000, and nearly all of that money is supplied by students. What this money is used for has recently come into question, and next year’s leaders are hoping to answer concerns with transparency.
The majority of USG funding comes from a portion of the student activity fee, a $37.50 charge that every student pays each semester. Largely due to this student cost, funding for USG has been brought under the microscope during the past two election seasons.
USG President Shamina Merchant and Vice President Shawn Semmler are looking to increase the organization’s transparency and get more student input regarding the spending of the student activity fee.
“It’s not a card game where you want to hide your hand; we want to be as transparent as possible,” said Semmler, a third-year in finance. “I’m a student too; I pay the student activity fee; I want to know where that money goes.”
According to the third-quarter budget for USG, $131,322.84 of the total $146,392.84 comes from the student activity fee. The remaining $15,070 comes from corporate partner Coca-Cola, which is primarily used on internal spending such as shirts, laptop stickers and leadership retreats.
Further review of the third-quarter budget shows that the top spending categories for USG, each taking up roughly 21 percent of the budget, are “general assembly” and “student affairs” costs.
The “general assembly” spending is mostly one expense, with $24,080 of the $31,180 being distributed to other student organizations.
Currently, student organizations must apply for funding through USG, with a maximum request to receive $1,500. Requests are approved by the allocations committee, which makes sure each request constitutes an acceptable use of student fees. USG’s internal expenses go through a similar process, but they can exceed the $1,500 cap.
Jacob Catron, the organization’s incoming chief financial officer, said the allocations committee, which consists of senators, approves funding proposals.
While it is a subjective process, Semmler said it’s an important part of what USG does.
“We’re always looking at different ways to give money to student organizations,” Semmler said. “We are excited to even try to top the last few years’ numbers in giving that out.”
Brothers Reese and Reagan Brooks ran for president and vice president the past two years on a platform of addressing USG funding. They questioned the organization’s internal expenses over funding student organizations, which turned out to be an inaccurate assertion.
However, the basis for their platform remained true: Students pay the vast majority of USG’s budget, and therefore are entitled to more information about where the funding is going.
The “student affairs” spending, which is used for community engagement, is more spread out, but roughly two-thirds of the $31,095.34 went to the Buckeye Road Trip, which cost $19,677.34. The Buckeye Road Trip is a service that reduces the cost of bus travel for transporting students to cities in and out of Ohio during Thanksgiving and spring break.
The budget information is readily available on USG’s website.
Catron, a third-year in accounting, said he wants to start using publicly visible Google Sheets for the quarterly budgets to keep students more up-to-date on USG finances, which could include actual expenditures from the quarter.
Merchant and Semmler plan to use monthly forums as an opportunity for dialogue with students regarding the spending of their activity fees.
“Part of [the USG forum] is going to provide information, and the other part is going to actually be, ‘Are we actively listening to what students want to see?’ And that’s feedback across the board,” said Merchant, a third-year in information systems.
Merchant and Semmler said they are looking to use more of USG’s internal funding for community events throughout the campus.
“If we hold an event as USG, it should be something that’s bringing the community together,” Merchant said. “The funding may come from us, but we want to actually have other people at the table.”