Cheaper and Smarter: Reforming Student Fees at Stanford

April 1, 2014, 12:48 a.m.

When you vote in the ASSU election this spring, you’ll see something on the ballot called “SAFE Reform.” SAFE Reform is a comprehensive overhaul of student group funding that replaces today’s broken fee system with a new framework that is better for both students and student groups.

Each undergraduate pays almost $430 to the ASSU every year to fund our 800-plus student groups, adding up to more than $1,700 per student over four (or more) years here. We have the highest student activities fee in the country, but it doesn’t need to be this high to support the amazing student life we enjoy. As it is, inefficiencies in today’s system result in student groups using only 75 percent of the money you pay every year. The rest is left to sit in “reserve accounts” that total over $2 million and grow each year.

SAFE Reform introduces a more efficient structure that gets closer to using 100 percent of your student fees. Because we will use more of the money you pay, we can decrease the student fee by approximately 15 percent while making slightly more money available to student groups. We’ll still get to enjoy the programs and events that we all know and love, but you will pay less for them. And while the ASSU Senate will still have the final say on most decisions, SAFE Reform will bring students with more funding experience into the process to make sure that your money is allocated in the most efficient and impactful way.

SAFE Reform is also good for student groups, who can now receive funding at any point during the year. Currently, Special Fees groups have to plan their entire budgets more than a year in advance, and cannot receive additional ASSU funds for new events or unexpected expenses. Any group that doesn’t apply for Special Fees is limited to receiving a maximum of $7,000 through General Fees for the year. The current system limits everyone: big groups can’t be flexible, and small groups with a big impact can’t get the money they need.

With SAFE Reform, we eliminate the divide between Special Fees and General Fees groups and allow any group to get money at any point during the year. Every group can apply for three types of grants: Major Grants, Minor Grants and Quick Grants. Like Special Fees, Major Grants will be approved by the student body in the spring election, while Minor Grants will be allocated monthly in a similar process to General Fees. Quick Grants will serve as a “reserve” for all groups, letting these organizations access money for special or last-minute expenses throughout the year, like hosting a famous speaker who stops by the Bay Area.

That leaves the question of our existing reserves. Of the current reserves of $2 million, approximately $1.3 million is held in individual reserve accounts for Special Fees groups, and the aggregate value of these accounts has grown by $300,000 over the past four years. Special Fees groups will be allowed to keep this money, but the accounts will not continue growing. Under SAFE Reform, groups won’t need to hold individual reserves because the Quick Grants fund will serve as a reserve for everyone. However, any group that has a specific need for holding a certain amount in reserves, such as saving up for a capital expenditure, will be able to apply to the student body for the ability to do so. (Case in point: Stanford Concert Network, which spends money to bring performers to Stanford.)

$200,000 of the remaining $700,000 will continue to be accessible to the Senate for funding initiatives. The other $500,000 will go into a secured loan buffer, which will allow us to purposefully overallocate funds and get closer to spending all of the money that you pay each year instead of the 75% we spend today. This process will be monitored very closely by the Financial Manager to ensure that we don’t drain this buffer.

The whole SAFE Reform team has been working for over a year on this long-overdue change, and we’ve reached out to hundreds of student groups and thousands of students. We hope you want to learn more, and if you do, we’ll be holding a town hall tonight at 5 p.m. in Old Union 200 to give a presentation and answer questions. You can find more information, including the full referendum, on our website,, and you can reach out to the SAFE Reform team with any questions or concerns at [email protected]

We’re excited to make the ASSU better for both students and student groups. Vote “yes” on SAFE Reform this Spring – vote “yes” to a funding system that’s better for student groups, “yes” to less bureaucracy and “yes” to a lower student fee.

Justine Moore ’16 and Olivia Moore ’16

On behalf of the SAFE Reform team



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