Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.

After funding crisis, what comes next for UFB?

UFB launches new group categorization, handbook, works to increase student activities fee

<p>UFB leaders said the student group recategorization in spring 2022 was one of the most notable causes of its budget deficit this year.</p>

UFB leaders said the student group recategorization in spring 2022 was one of the most notable causes of its budget deficit this year.

This year, student groups faced restricted budgets after the Undergraduate Finance Board aggressively spent its $1.2 million surplus in the 2022-23 academic year — leaving a $1.5 million gap between requested and received funding. 

The Herald spoke with outgoing UFB Chair Arjun Chopra ’25 about the organization’s finances, responses to the budget crisis and what student groups can expect next year.

What caused the budget deficit? 

In 2022, UFB decided to spend down a large portion of its surplus to increase student engagement. They had originally aimed to keep an available surplus of $150,000. But because of late invoices, the board needed to spend more than expected, leaving them with a forward balance of “pretty much zero,” Chopra previously told The Herald. 

ADVERTISEMENT

With a small forward balance, clubs faced restricted budgets in 2023-24, The Herald previously reported.

In response to the budget cuts, UFB reduced spending in other areas like back-end support — internal costs like Media Services and Facilities Management — and safety, which increased from roughly $629,000 in 2021-22 to over $1 million in 2022-23. UFB subsequently plans to cut funding for these fixed costs from around $1.02 million in 2022-23 to $478,000 in 2023-24, according to financial projections shared at a March 5 town hall. 

Chopra was vice chair when UFB decided to spend down its surplus. He took over as UFB chair in fall 2023, when clubs first faced the reduced budgets. 

We believed that “we need to do this massive stimulus in order to get people involved in clubs and get clubs to flourish as much as possible” after pandemic restrictions eased, Chopra told The Herald in fall 2023, as clubs faced decreased budgets. “Now we’re in a situation where the stimulus was very successful, and we are in a belt-tightening era” in terms of money.

UFB financial statements released at the town hall illustrate how ballooning costs — combined with an intentional boost to club allocations — decreased the board’s surplus more than expected.

Between 2018 and 2023, undergraduates paid $143 per semester in tuition for the Student Activities Fund, which gave UFB roughly $2 million annually to allocate among student groups. During the pandemic, students did not pay two semesters of activities fees over the four semesters in 2021 and 2022. 

UFB requested that the University increase the semesterly fee to $168 for 2023-24, but the University only increased it to $150. 

Before the pandemic, UFB aimed to maintain a surplus of $300,000 every year to safeguard against fluctuations in revenue. But in 2020, after receiving access to 12 years of historical data that the board previously did not have access to, UFB realized that they had unknowingly accumulated a surplus of over $1 million. 

Last school year, UFB increased student group allocations by $300,000 — 30% of the $1 million surplus — in hopes of giving more money to student groups following the pandemic, Chopra said. 

But the board also saw a large increase in internal costs from roughly $629,000 in 2021-22 to over $1 million in 2022-23, according to financial statements shared at a March 5 town hall. Those internal costs — for example, safety expenses and Media Services — cut into the remaining 70% of the surplus. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Those increased costs coincided with a 2022 change in how student groups are categorized, changing their eligibility for funding. Because of the change, roughly twice as many student groups could request supplemental funding from UFB in 2022-23. Plus, the number of student groups on campus overall increased by 33%, according to Chopra.

Ricky Zhong ’23, the UCS student activities chair in 2022, told The Herald at the time that the primary goal of the recategorization was to make UFB funding available for more student groups, especially in light of the “substantial UFB surplus.”

“Because we have more mouths to feed,” Chopra added, “everyone is getting a little less.”

What’s in store for student groups in 2025?

Get The Herald delivered to your inbox daily.

UFB has also made a number of changes that will take effect next school year, Chopra said, including a new categorization that will sort groups into four categories instead of the traditional three.

The new system allows UCS’s Student Activities Committee to decide whether a student group fits into category one — and thus only receives baseline funds — or category two, which receives access to slightly more funding, according to Chopra. 

UFB will determine if a category two group can be moved into category three — where they receive baseline funding and all other additional funding from UFB — based on factors including “consistency and growth” of group membership and event scale, Chopra said. The full qualification metrics can be found in the UFB handbook.

UFB also created a new category four for a select number of groups — like the Brown Concert Agency — that “receive a single lump-sum in lieu of individual budgets,” according to the handbook. Beyond their lump sum, category four groups cannot request supplemental funding throughout the year.

The new category does not indicate “a group’s entitlement to any higher amounts of funding,” the handbook said. Lump sums are for groups that cannot submit “line-item based requests” due to complexities such as “high degree of variability” or “a legally enforceable need for confidentiality.”

“UFB leaders have attempted to work with SAO and the UCS Student Activities Committee” to change the categorization system since 2022, Chopra wrote in a message to The Herald. “Only after exhausting all of our options by attempting to work with our partners in UCS, did UFB move forward with the decision to take-over part of the re-categorization system.”

“This was a choice that was made with a great deal of care and input from our advisors in SAO as well as members of the Student Activities Committee,” he added.

The Board also rewrote its handbook that included policies that were “a little arcane,” according to Chopra. For next school year and this spring’s budget decisions for next semester, the new handbook will apply, which requires funding requests to fit one of their eight budget types — ranging from publicity to inventory, event and travel. Requirements for these types “change slightly depending on a group’s category,” according to the handbook. 

Chopra said that travel costs will be scrutinized at a higher level going forward. When making funding decisions, UFB will continue to consider each event’s cost per person and not fund food unless absolutely integral to the event’s purpose, he added. 

UFB will also launch a pilot program that sets aside funding for student groups to host events during Spring Weekend, starting next year. According to Chopra, groups that host events during Spring Weekend right now include BCA, the Class Coordinating Board and Greek organizations. But in the past, more groups hosted events during that time. “I think that a greater diversity of events is beneficial to everybody,” Chopra said.

Additionally, UFB has been working to increase the Student Activities Fee by 33% to $400.

In October of 2022, UFB requested a $50 per year increase in the student activities fee — a total of $336 — The Herald previously reported. But the Board was only granted a $14 increase, bringing the SA fee to $300 for this school year.

But according to Chopra, Brown’s SA fee is still much lower than that of peer institutions. Stanford’s student activities fee is $208 per quarter — amounting to $624 per year — and Columbia’s is $1,696 for the academic year. 

Chopra added that unlike other peer institutions, Brown does not allow endowment funds to directly support student groups, which takes away another avenue of funding. “We started from a very disadvantageous position” compared to other similar schools, he said.

UFB’s 2024-25 proposal was reviewed by the University Resources Committee, which included the increased fee in its recommendation to President Christina Paxson P’19 P’MD’20, according to Chopra. Paxson will then either propose the increase to the Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — or reject UFB’s proposal and recommend a different budget.

But Chopra said that the increase will only “get us back to normal.” 

Although the University did not meet last year’s fee increase proposal in its entirety, Chopra said it is likely that administrators will approve the $100 increase, as the additional $100 has already been accounted for in next year’s cost of attendance displayed on the Bursar’s website

In the past, UFB refrained from pushing too hard for fee increases in hopes of maintaining a strong relationship with administration, Chopra said. 

“I'm personally proud of the relationships that we’ve developed” with the administration, Chopra said. But “if we don’t get this fee increase … UFB will not be able to do what it has done in the past.”

Chopra said he is not concerned about a negative student response to the fee increase in their tuition. In a survey sent out to all financial signatories, 79.7% of students surveyed supported a fee increase. 

“UFB has been informed by senior members of the University Finance team that an increase in the Undergraduate Student Activities Fee would have no net impact for students on financial aid” because it will not affect students’ expected family contributions, Chopra wrote in an email to The Herald.

Even with this potential increase, Chopra said UFB has “no idea” exactly what the budget will look like in the coming years. 

But Chopra anticipates that UFB will be able to allocate $2.4 million to student groups next year — $400,000 more than was allocated last year. “We did do a lot of cost cutting this year, and that’s no small feat,” Chopra said. “But we also are looking at a $700,000 increase in revenue” from the SA fee increase. 

Projections shown at the board’s March town hall predicted that the board will have $0.00 in their starting cash balance before revenue next year. But Chopra said that he is “100% certain that we’re not going to go into next year with $0.00.”

“When we make the projections for next year, we always expect the worst case scenario,” he explained. Chopra said his updated predictions anticipate that some money will be left over for additional spending next year.

“We’re in a very, very good position next year,” Chopra added. “Next year will be the year where UFB is able to allocate the most funds directly to groups, and significantly more funds than in the past year.”

But Chopra emphasized that “a crisis like this very much could occur again” if future chairs fail to increase the student activities fee or enforce cost-saving initiatives.

Preventing a future budget crisis “should be and (is) our number one, two (and) three priority,” he added. “Everything else comes after that.”

Naomi LeDell ’26, incoming UFB Chair, wrote in an email to The Herald that “UFB has been working to gradually increase the Student Activities Fee to keep up with inflation, as every year presents us with rising costs. To maintain an appropriate level of funding we can provide students, we must keep pushing to continue our upward trajectory.”

“I totally get it: students are saying that this year was a total shit show, (and) how do you trust that next year?” Chopra said. “I have absolute faith that all of the things that we have set up this year are going to reap massive rewards next year.”


Leah Koritz

Leah Koritz is a Senior Staff Writer covering the student government beat under University News. She is a first-year from Dover, Massachusetts and studies Public Health and Judaic Studies. Leah can yas sdrow sdrawkcab (now read that backwards).


Julianna Chang

Julianna Chang is a University News Editor who oversees the academics and advising and student government beats. A sophomore from the Bay Area, Julianna is studying Biology and Political Science on the pre-medical track. When she's not in class or in the office, she can be found eating some type of noodle soup and devouring bad books.



Popular


Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2024 The Brown Daily Herald, Inc.