The Institute is home to nearly 600 registered student organizations (RSO); from cultural organizations to professional development clubs, Tech’s campus represents a microcosm of the diversity of its students’ interests. However, with so many student-run organizations relying on the Student Government Association (SGA) for annual budgets and monetary support, resource disparities are becoming more apparent between smaller RSOs and their larger counterparts.
Recent changes to the bill policy have created a more accessible process for all RSOs on the Engage platform, eliminating the bureaucratic barriers that previously created limitations for funding. Simultaneously, the budget surplus due to the COVID-19 pandemic set a precedent and expectation of RSOs having unlimited spending money at the behest of clicking a few buttons due to the new streamlined bill process. These realities have created a budgetary crisis for SGA; for the upcoming fiscal year, SGA saw the Institute’s RSOs request around $3 million through the budget process when only around $1.1 million is available. For Fiscal Year 2025 (FY25), SGA must cut RSO spending significantly.
Representatives from SGA sat down with the Technique to provide insight into how the bill and budget processes work, along with changes made in recent years and how the process can be improved to create a more resource-abundant and equitable environment for all student organizations. The representatives included members of the undergraduate executive branch: President Aanjan Sikal (fourth-year IE), Executive Vice President Harrison Baro (third-year ENVE) and Joint Vice President of Finance Maxwell Oglesby (fourth-year BA).
For Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24), SGA has approximately $1.85 million they can allocate to RSOs through the budget process in theory. However, this pool of funds is not entirely used for direct budget request fulfillment. In FY24, 65.5% of the $1.85 million was utilized by SGA for budgets, and the remainder (35.5%) was diverted to the jurisdiction of the Vice President for Student Engagement and Well-Being (SEWB), Dr. Luoluo Hong.
These remaining funds are up to SEWB’s discretion and include elements like student stipends, events put on by the Student Center Programs Council (SCPC) and supporting student publications, to name a few. The pool of funds for RSO annual budgets for a given year is collected through the revenue generated via the student activity fee from the prior fiscal year. For instance, the RSO budgets allocated for FY24 consist of the funds sourced from the revenue collected in FY23.
According to Georgia state guidelines, FY24 began on July 1, 2023 and will end on June 30, 2024, and Tech also follows this model. For FY24, SGA has $1.4 million they can allocate to student organizations
through the bills process. As for the pool comprising the funds for the annual bill allocation, Sikal explained, “That consists of rollover from day one of history when this process started. From that point, if money was not used in the budget or the bills, that became the amount for the bills. So, when there’s money allocated in budgets and money allocated in bills, when that money is unspent at the end of the fiscal year, all of that comes back. And then that is the new starting number for the bills for the next year.”
Before 2020, SGA approved RSO bills funding on a case-by-case basis. Organizations would request money, and the SGA House of Representatives would vote to approve or reject their request. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Students For Life, a pro-life organization on campus, was denied funds to bring pro-life activist Alveda King to come speak on campus. In April 2020, a lawsuit was filed against the Institute and SGA regarding the matter, and as a result, SGA was required to adjust their bill process from a subjective, case-by-case process to a viewpoint-neutral one.
Simultaneously, the Institute’s shift to virtual schooling during the pandemic led to less RSO spending. At the same time, the revenue stream from the student activity fund remained constant, causing a sharp increase in available funds from FY20 to FY21. The combination of these two factors allowed for an uninhibited increase in RSO spending since the pandemic.
According to a spreadsheet SGA released in a Reddit post, spending particularly spiked among student engineering organizations. Total RSO spending has increased by 96% — from around $1.5 million in FY19 to around $2.9 million in FY23. Engineering club spending has increased by 744% in the same period, from $128,678 in FY19 to $1.1 million in FY23.
These organizations have grown significantly as a result. The Ramblin’ Rocket Club (RRC) 2023-2025 Spaceshot program seeks to launch a rocket that breaches the Kármán Line, which separates the Earth’s atmosphere from outer space. The club also requested $770,792 in budgetary funding for FY23.
“Based on the previous system, there wasn’t an upper limit to how much money we could request,” said Connor Johnson, third-year AE and co-chair of the RRC’s Experimental Rocketry division. “Given our team was ambitious, we wanted to use all the money we could get on ambitious projects like the spaceshot rocket. Part of the consequences of setting a goal like building a two stage rocket is that it will incur a lot of research and development costs.”
Last year, due to the bill funds running out, SGA had to go into reserves, which is about $200,000 set-aside annually to be used in the case of an emergency. However, according to Sikal, SGA doesn’t want to repeat last year’s practice to remediate the current bill funding issue because, “the problem is if we use the reserve in the next fiscal year, that money has to be put into the reserve before we go into the
bills process from what we have. And so ideally, we don’t go into the reserves, because by policy, we have to
fill up the reserves.”
Furthermore, this was the first year that RSOs cumulatively requested more funds through the budget process than were available in the pool generated annually through the student activity fee. Generally, there is a 10% cap placed on the budget process that dictates after the 35.5% of the overall study activity fee revenue is allocated to SEWB, a student organization cannot request more than 10% of the overall 65.5% of the student activity fee revenue leftover for their annual budget. If a student organization requests more than the 10% allowed, they are automatically brought down to the 10% margin, and from there, if needed, SGA can implement cuts for organizations across the board to ensure that the overall budget requests do not surpass the allotted 64.5% of the student activity fee.
Sikal emphasized that, “It’s essentially a disingenuous ask to request more than 10%. That’s how I guess we view it. We believe one organization shouldn’t take up more than 10% of the overall allocable money in a budget process.” Another aspect of the funds allocation policy that SGA highlighted was the difference between prior year (PY) and capital outlay (CO) expenditures. Things that can be included under PY expenditures are consumable items, such as food and decorations for cultural organizations. Under the current SGA policy, PY item requests are funded at 100% of the unit cost, whereas CO expenditures are funded at two-thirds of the unit cost, which includes items like machinery and equipment or other non-consumable items.
When asked if RSOs have abused the policy, Oglesby and Sikal explained that the higher spending can be attributed to the open policy between RSO budgets and their bills that has led to organizations being able to leverage the existing processes.
To remediate the current budgetary insufficiency, SGA has initiated a voluntary rollover process. Currently, the bill process is paused and in order to boost the pool of available funds, SGA is asking RSOs with unspent funds from their FY24 budget if they want to return the money.
SGA emphasized that every organization has a right to deny this request and keep the money they were allocated for FY24. Instead, the rollover process was a policy created in good faith for organizations that may have extra funds in their budgets for things they may no longer need. Once that money is sent back, it will be added to the bill pool in order to benefit the larger campus community.
RSOs have grown accustomed to these budget increases, and many of their leaders have had to think on their feet to mitigate the effects of the cuts on their organizations. Now, they must collaborate with SGA to achieve more long-term, sustainable budget solutions.
“By the time we were really big enough to start having a large budget and actually launching rockets, it was 2020 and 2021 with that COVID kind of surplus,” said Will Miller, fourth-year IE and Yellow Jacket Space Program (YJSP) Vice President. “[Those were] the only budgets we’d ever known when I took over as VP of Finance.”
“I feel like it was almost out of nowhere that we found out about these cuts,” said Sana Churi, second-year AE and RRC president. “Then it was a lot of frantic planning on our part to reevaluate our goals. Each subteam had to think of how feasible their goals would be.”
Under the new budget cut system, engineering organizations with larger budgets will receive the most significant cuts. It seems that this has brought on some indignation from the community, as a Reddit post about the matter titled “SGA aims to destroy engineering organizations” has 217 upvotes and 127 comments. However, the leaders of these organizations disagree and rather see it as an opportunity for growth and professional development.
“I think that’s the view of a very small percentage of engineering orgs. Obviously, we want to make sure we have enough money to be doing what we’re doing, but we don’t really want that at the expense of every other club on campus. … SGA and a lot of the offices on campus work a lot with the engineering organizations and other clubs in looking at how to get corporate sponsorships and utilizing the kind of connections that Georgia Tech has as a research institute,” said Miller.
Aside from working alongside RSOs, SGA has also proposed a new budget formula. Given the current budget crisis and the standing policy, SGA would have to make a uniform cut of 57% to every RSO’s budget. Although the percentage cut is uniform, its effects are magnified for smaller, newer RSOs that struggle to gain their footing at the Institute. Cutting their budget in half could jeopardize their ability to hold events and retain enough membership to continue existing. Seeing this, SGA worked to develop a comprehensive budget cut plan that mimics a graduated tax system.
Under their proposed plan, organizations that spend between $0 and $2,448.30 will not face any budget cuts. For ones that spend between that and $9,793.18, the money that they spend within that bracket will be cut by 45.67%. Any money spent above this amount will be cut by 68.51%. These brackets and rates were derived from a formula that SGA developed that maximizes the average percentage of budget retained per RSO, and it is available at tinyurl.com/SGA1122.
Reflecting on the proposed process, Miller said, “There’s going to be reductions anyway, and I’d rather make sure that every club on campus has access to the money that they need to do what they’re doing. Especially because as an engineering or a competition team, we are much more poised to get outside funding.”
Funding for student organizations will look different for the upcoming fiscal year with an imminent overhaul of the entire RSO budget process. It is unlikely that many of the student organizations on campus will be able to uphold the same spending habits that they practiced during this post-COVID surplus era.
However, SGA has demonstrated that they are committed to fostering the growth of the RSO community as a whole, and is in the process of establishing a more permanent solution to the budget crisis.