A look at dorm funds: Quarterly-divided funding and logistical issues make new dorm programming difficult

Dec. 19, 2014, 1:01 p.m.

For any student who lives on campus, a portion of one’s “room and board” costs go to house dues. These funds cover a variety of extracurricular expenses that supplement the dorm experience. While most students enjoy the fruits of these funds, only dorm staff and government realize the challenges of managing funds.

The ways in which dues are managed differ from dorm to dorm. Dorms are essentially independent in how they choose to spend funds. This often involves the collaboration of Residential Educators, Resident Fellows, Residential Assistants and students involved in dorm government. In addition, dorms typically employ polls or surveys to allow residents to offer input as to how funds should be spent. On the whole, the main responsibility goes to the dorm treasurer.

Nate Boswell, an Associate Dean of Residential Education, explains, “All house treasurers go through a training with the Assistant Director for Finance prior to receiving access to the House Dues bank account and House Dues funds.”

At this training, treasurers learn about financial policy and are offered skills and materials, which will assist in their bookkeeping.

On campus, occasionally there is word of a dorm going “into debt.” It is usually unclear how “debt” is handled and whether it can actually exist, given that dorms don’t take loans.

The simple answer, however, is that treasurers cannot overspend the House Dues bank accounts, according to Boswell.

Sometimes what is called “debt” is really a delay in payment. House dues are distributed quarterly, meaning that the sum allotted for an entire year is divided by three and provided at the beginning of each quarter. Some dorms may be inclined to spend more one quarter and less another, in order to balance opportunities and costs.

One item requires special fiscal preparation: the Ski (or Snow) Trip. Deposits for housing and other travel arrangements often come out of fall quarter sums, even though Ski Trip occurs in the winter. Dorms use student co-pays or external funds to absorb costs so that the fall quarter does not sacrifice funds for dorm gear and other costs.

“I think it ties up the hands of the treasurer and dorm government in general when the money is split into three quarters, but, in reality, spending overlaps,” Chinedum Egbosimba ’18, the treasurer for Soto, said.

It can also be difficult to plan for events in advance without guarantee sums from grants, which typically take a week to confirm.

“It’s hard planning an event that you hope to get grant funds for, and then finding out later that you won’t actually get those funds,” Isabel Gueble ’16, a Resident Assistant at Crothers, said.

While there are some events or expenses that are consistent from year to year, there is ample opportunity to initiate fresh programs. For example, some dorms like Junipero try to incorporate a social justice component to which the dues can be put to use.

“We wanted J-Ro to spend with more consciousness, to keep the bigger picture in mind,” Eva Jordan, a Resident Fellow at Junipero, said.

Some Resident Fellows try to cultivate dialogue about thinking critically when it comes to managing funds. After all, there is often a lot of talk about obtaining additional “free” gear or dorm accessories.

“It’s not to spoil anyone’s fun — you got here … you deserve to enjoy it,” Jordan said. “But stay human…[Think] about where your dollars are coming from and where they’re going.”

Unfortunately, it is difficult to maintain this type of attitude with new students coming in every year. Interest in any particular focus is similarly difficult to maintain.

Other logistical issues pose challenges to the process of managing house dues. When receipts are not turned in quickly enough then it is difficult to gauge the amount of dorm funds at a given time. A possible solution would be to lend out more debit cards that Residential Assistants can use to make large purchases.

“I hate spending money and then getting reimbursed, because it’s scary spending sometimes a thousand dollars at once and then waiting to get reimbursed,” Gueble said.

Contact Alexandra Bourdillon at abourdil ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Alexandra Bourdillon '18 is a freshman from Cupertino, CA. When she's not eating waffles, she can be found reading tea leaves or quantifying the land-speed velocity of a swallow (African, not European). After Stanford she hopes to explore the world, although the Bay Area will always be her home. To contact Alexandra, email her at abourdil ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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