My case for raising graduate student activity fees

March 8, 2016, 11:59 p.m.

My name is Sam. For the last two years, I’ve been the Financial Officer of the Graduate Student Council (GSC). I wanted to write this note because I have introduced a measure to be included on the ASSU election ballot to raise the graduate student activity fee by $5 per quarter and am asking that graduate students (1) vote in the elections on April 7-8 and (2) vote in favor of raising the student activity fee. The short explanation is that the GSC is currently set to drain its reserve account. It’s not a case of bad budgeting — the GSC just funds more events than we used to, and now graduate students have to decide whether we want to keep funding those events or whether we are okay with significant reductions in the GSC’s budget.

Here’s how we got to this point. The GSC has a “rainy day fund,” or reserve account, in case of unexpected occurrences. Though estimates vary for how large such a fund should be for an organization like the GSC, a good rule of thumb that works well is approximately one year’s budget. A few years ago, the GSC determined that its reserve account was too large and that the value of this account should be reduced, by partially funding the GSC’s budget out of this reserve fund. This year, for example, ~$100,000 was taken out of the GSC’s reserve account and used along with graduate student fee contributions to fund the ~$350,000 annual GSC budget. Naturally, after a few years of doing this, the GSC’s reserve account is now well below the one-year annual budget level. Clearly, this method of funding our budget is unsustainable. Maybe not this year, or even the next, but soon the GSC will confront a serious choice. We either (1) raise the graduate student activity fee to cover the current contribution from the reserve account or (2) we deplete the rainy-day fund, triggering dramatic cuts to GSC’s budget when it’s gone. Don’t get me wrong; this problem can be solved without raising fees, but it would come at the expense of Stanford’s wonderful and lively graduate community. Therefore, I strongly propose raising the student activity fee by $5 per quarter. For reference, the quarterly fee this fiscal year was $24, charged only during the Fall, Winter and Spring quarters.

Graduate student activity fees at Stanford provide a foundation for a vibrant and interconnected graduate community in which many Stanford graduate students regularly participate, and the GSC is responsible for distributing these funds in an orderly, transparent manner.

Many of you are familiar with the GSC’s annual big-ticket items, such as Grad Formal (which is heavily subsidized by student activity fees so that tickets are affordable), and the Fall Quarter Welcome Back Party. But this is far from the whole story. Each year, ~$250,000 of our budget is allocated to Voluntary Student Organizations (VSOs) to fund events that all graduate students can attend (actually, open graduate student attendance is a condition of our funding). Such events include Fire On Fire, Oktoberfest (jointly organized by the German Student Association and Stanford Brewing Club), the Electrical Engineering Prom, the Association of Chinese Students and Scholars’ Chinese New Year’s Gala, and the Black Law Student Association’s Black History Month Gala. This is just a small sampling of the events and organizations that the GSC and your student activity fees fund. I estimate that the GSC funds between 100-200 Stanford graduate events each year. Reducing budgets means that we have less money for such events, which means graduate student organizers and volunteers will either have to scale back events or go down the often frustrating and time-consuming path of finding alternate funding sources.

Sometimes graduate students feel as though they “don’t really get their money’s worth” out of their student activity fees since they attend few or no events funded by the GSC. Even though we would love to have all graduate students join our events and participate in the graduate community, we realize that it’s not for everyone. However, student activity fees go to much more than just events. The GSC funds many service groups that work to make a difference in Bay Area communities. For example, student activity fees help fund the Science Bus and the 49ers Academy Teaching Team, predominantly graduate-staffed organizations that promote science and engineering education amongst students in local school districts such as East Palo Alto by putting on weekly labs, lessons, and fields trips. These programs inspire kids to work hard in school and aim for a college degree. This year, student activity fees aided the development of the Challenge Accepted program, coordinated by the Black Graduate Students Association, which will give Stanford graduate students an opportunity to mentor local black high school students with the goal of increasing diversity in graduate programs. Student activity fees also helped fund the upcoming Veteran’s Law Conference, for which funding was requested after the Stanford Law Veterans Association exhausted alternate sources of funding and subsequently turned to the GSC. This conference intends to be the first student-run conference of its kind addressing veteran homelessness and the the efficacy of Veterans Treatment Courts, noting that Santa Clara County has the highest percentage of homeless veterans in the United States.

Talk about Stanford students stepping up as leaders and having a positive impact on the world. I am proud that my fellow Stanford graduate students spend their time on these projects, and all the prouder that, through my graduate fees, I have had the opportunity to help fund them. I don’t want to see programs and projects like these have to struggle with major or complete funding cuts, especially when it will only take another $15 out of my pocket per year to ensure that the GSC will be able to ensure the diversity and quality of events and activities that the Stanford graduate community has grown to love.

I encourage all graduate students to vote in the upcoming ASSU elections on April 7-8 and to vote in favor of raising the graduate student activity fees. If you are an officer of a graduate VSO that works with the GSC, I implore you to reach out to the members of your group leading up to the elections, expressing what student activity funds (or cuts in GSC funding) mean to your group.

I hope that this note gives you a more complete picture of what the GSC does and its importance for our community. Maybe some of you will want to come and get involved with the GSC. It’s a wonderful experience, you’ll meet spectacular people, and we have food at our meetings! Thank you for taking the time to consider my arguments, and remember to turn out on April 7-8 to support your graduate community.


Sam Bydlon

Graduate Student Council Member

Representative from the School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences

Financial Officer 2015-2016

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