The Student Activities Fee — an annual amount paid by students that helps fund the budgets for campus groups — is long overdue for change, according to many members of the Yale College Council. But raising the fee is more of an art than a science, YCC Finance Director Connor Feeley ’16 said.
The YCC proposed increasing the SAF from $75 to $125 last semester. Its recommended amount still falls short of the average $160 SAF at other Ivy League schools, but both former and current YCC board members interviewed said they believe the fee should be gradually increased every couple of years to reflect changing economic situations and student needs. The last time Yale’s SAF increased was 2009.
“We are not going to be able to provide the same quality of student experiences that Yale College students have come to expect with the fee where it is now,” said YCC President Michael Herbert ’16.
But though the YCC voted in support of a fee increase last semester, the change will not be implemented this year.
After handing the matter to the Yale College Dean’s Office for execution in the spring, the YCC received notice from Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry that the YCDO was uncomfortable making the change while students were away from campus for the summer. According to Herbert, Gentry also encouraged the YCC to publicize its decision more broadly and invite more campus feedback before the fee was increased.
Gentry did not respond to requests for comment.
“It was such a high priority at the end of last year. … We thought we had made more progress than we had,” Feeley said. “At the end of the day, there were just miscommunications between the old board and the administration, and it just wasn’t feasible.”
YCC members interviewed said they appreciate and agree with the administration’s emphasis on gathering student feedback before making any official changes in policy. Still, many said they believe that last year’s council sufficiently publicized the vote and the discussions surrounding the SAF without receiving much criticism.
The YCC held a meeting, advertised to the student body, to discuss the issue last spring. However, only a handful of non-YCC students attended. Feeley said this could indicate apathy or misinformation about the issue, but it might also reflect the student body’s lack of concern about raising the SAF. The YCC’s website currently includes a page explaining the argument for a higher fee.
“There has not been a lot of student opposition,” Herbert said. “There seems to be kind of a consensus opinion that it needs to be addressed this year.”
Herbert said he expects the issue of raising the SAF to be resolved before December, which is when financial aid packages go out to students admitted under Yale’s early action program.
Herbert said the assumption at the meeting where the vote took place was that financial aid packages would grow to cover the higher SAF. He added that no administrators have expressed any doubt to him that this would be possible.
Currently, students can opt out of paying the SAF, and Herbert said this would continue to be an option under the proposed fee. However, the process of opting out would be more extensive, involving sending a message to the YCDO explaining the decision to opt out instead of simply clicking a button, he added.
Yale is one of only two Ivy League schools, Harvard being the other, that offer an opt-out option from the SAF. Eight percent of Yale’s student body opted out of the fee last year.
Last year’s SAF brought in a total of $372,450 — 15 percent of which was allocated toward club sports, 35 percent toward student organizations and 50 percent toward student government — the majority of which was used for events like Spring Fling. Undergraduate Organizations Committee Director Tina Yuan ’16 and last year’s Spring Fling Committee Chair Erica Leh ’15 both said the SAF increase would bring with it discussions about reshuffling the current allocation percentages.
Yuan and Leh agreed that more money should be available for student organizations because more students are involved with them than attend Spring Fling. Yuan, who also served on the UOC last year, said the committee is only able to grant about one third of the total amount of requested money to student organizations each year.
“A lot of times, when I’m approving applications [for funding], I’m thinking about financial constraints … not the vibrancy of the applications,” Yuan said.
Yuan said she has urged groups to request money for events rather than administrative costs to make their funding applications more compelling. Still, she said the ideal situation is to have enough money from the SAF that all groups’ needs can be fulfilled.
Former YCC Events Director Eli Rivkin ’15 said improving events is one primary motivation for increasing the SAF. In the years since the last SAF increase, he said, the business model of the entertainment industry has changed substantially, and it has become a larger financial strain to invite popular artists to campus.
“To meet [students’] expectations, we definitely need more money,” Rivkin said. “And no one understands the gravity of it.”
This past year, Leh said, the Spring Fling Committee’s talent budget was just a third of those at the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell and Brown. Although some of these schools have larger student bodies, their students also pay higher SAFs, allowing them to have more artists of better quality, she said.
But Leh said that if the SAF were increased, the first thing she would suggest to the Spring Fling Committee would be to hire more contracted laborers. In recent years, the committee could not afford as many laborers as they needed for setup and takedown, so those responsibilities often fell squarely on the committee members’ shoulders.
Yale first implemented an optional SAF of $50 in 2005.