Grant petitions and a student government conference trip to Washington, D.C. are two of Belmont SGA’s largest expenses in its $75,000 budget passed during its first open meeting of the semester.
Belmont’s Student Government Association has $46,000 to spend in grant petitions — $1,000 less than last year’s budget, according to an email from former treasurer Colin Haslett.
Nearly 20 percent of this year’s SGA budget, however, is set aside for six SGA cabinet members and adviser Jessica Dykes to attend the four day American Student Government Association conference in Washington, D.C..
The cost, according to an email from Dykes, is an estimated $10,420.65 and includes airfare, lodging, food and conference fees.
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“ASGA is the only organization of its kind that focuses solely on equipping and educating Student Government Association leaders,” Dykes wrote in an email. “We are excited that the SGA cabinet has an opportunity to attend ASGA and gain knowledge that will enhance their leadership efforts on our campus.”
Last year, members of SGA’s presidential cabinet also flew to the four day National Conference on Student Leadership in Orlando, Florida.
That trip cost close to $11,000, Dykes said, with remaining funds reallocated to other parts of the budget.
Former SGA President Chris Dickerson said he believes the Orlando trip was an invaluable experience. He acknowledged the high cost, but said SGA did all it could to make the trip less expensive.
Current president Shania Jones said SGA is doing that for this year’s trip as well.
“We booked flights well in advance, we used ride-sharing apps instead of parking ourselves at the airport, we stayed at the hotel that gave a conference discount, we stayed under the university’s per diem rates, we didn’t arrive until right before the conference and then came straight home afterwards to cut out any additional, unnecessary meals, etc.,” Dickerson wrote.
“I absolutely thought that the trip was worth what was spent.”
However, to members of smaller student organizations — like the National Art Education Association — the price tag concerns them.
The NAEA petitioned for $2,400 from SGA. They received $1,250, not enough to cover the expense of its annual conference in New York City earlier this year.
Caitlyn Henneberry stayed with another student’s family in New Jersey and drove more than three hours every day to and from the conference.
Lodging and gas expenses were not covered by Belmont, she said.
“I don’t feel important,” Henneberry said. “I’m not sure if there’s disconnect between Belmont and its student organizations or between SGA and its student organizations in terms of how much money is allotted. But it does feel as though SGA is being preferred over all the other student organizations.”
The most SGA awarded in grant petitions to one group last year was a little over $1,500 to the Virtual Reality and New Media organization, after it petitioned for $9,000 in mid-February and $3,000 in late February.2016-17 grant petitions
Provost Dr. Thomas Burns said SGA is limited in how much it can grant to individual student organizations due to its budgetary constraints.
“To make sure that funds are available to many organizations, SGA necessarily must put limits on the amount of funding per request or organization,” Burns wrote in an email. “SGA, on the other hand, doesn’t have the ability to access funds from other sources, so they would need to provide full coverage for their own events and activities.”
In fact, Belmont’s student government receives very little funding compared to other Nashville universities. Belmont collects more than $8 million in revenue from the consolidated student fee,according to a 2015 report. Of that, $50,000 went back to SGA.
Vanderbilt University’s student governmenthas $1.8 million to grant student organizations alone and Middle Tennessee State University’s SGA hasa $220,000 budget, according to the student government associations at both.
Several years ago, Belmont’s SGA had even less money to distribute to student organizations. In an effort to be more transparent, it voted to remove cabinet member scholarships from its budget. That money, said Dykes, was reallocated to pay for leadership development trips like the ASGA conference and provide more funds for student organizations.
“They made the vote that they wanted to take the $9,000 that student government had previously received in scholarship funds and reallocate that into the budget to be utilized in the future for things like leadership development and student organization grants,” Dykes said. “At campuses across the nation that is extremely common to have SGA cabinet members compensated for their time.”
But at Belmont, “They do this as student leader volunteers.”
Contributing reporting by Harrison Baldwin.