The incoming Graduate and Professional Student Senate hopes to make better use of its increased revenue next year and use this year’s leftover funds to repay and grow its endowment.
GPSS scored a major victory in August 2009 when it expanded its budget by almost $250,000. Before the 2009-2010 school year, graduate students taking fewer than six units were exempt from the $31 fee that students pay to GPSS each semester. Now, all 17,000 or so graduate students pay $31 per semester, regardless of course load.
“That programming fee is our sole source of revenue,” said Johannes Schmitt, the current GPSS president. “We found that many students who weren’t paying the fee were using its fund, so we’ve been working for that fee expansion for the last four or five years.”
The expansion, however, came with an administrative requirement: 80 percent of the additional revenue had to be allocated to the Conference Travel Fund, which pays for graduate students to attend events such as leadership conferences and case competitions around the United States.
“The Conference Travel Fund was expanded by almost $200,000 this year,” Schmitt said. “We won’t spend even half of that — a conservative estimate is $75,000 — so we’re waiting to see whether we’ll have that 80 percent requirement again next year.”
Irfan Elahi, the finance chair-elect, said he hopes to use that leftover money to help pay back and increase the endowment fund.
GPSS borrowed $67,000 from the endowment fund three years ago and currently owes $32,000. In addition to paying that debt, Elahi wants to expand the endowment fund from $118,000 to $250,000 before the next school year begins.
“My goal is to not only reverse that deficit but also increase the endowment, so we can earn interest and grow it further,” Elahi said.
If the administrative requirement is lifted, GPSS also hopes to reduce the amount of money given to the Conference Travel Fund.
Other aspects of the proposed budget include adding a Senator Leadership Development Fund, which will pay for $500 of travel for each of GPSS’ 70 senators to attend leadership conferences. The Senate has yet to approve the new fund.
GPSS has also purchased $200,000 naming rights to a lounge in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center, which opens next fall. They plan to pay at least $40,000 next year, with the possibility of also allocating leftover funds to the new lounge.
“We’ve said we’ll pay it back in five years, but with leftover funds in this new plan, we could do it in about two,” Elahi said.
Elahi said the fee expansion has prevented any major cuts in GPSS funding avenues.
“The increase in revenue has really allowed us to expand our budgets and create additional outflow,” Elahi said. “We’re not really cutting any areas next year because of the fee increase.”
Expanding the Conference Travel Fund also allowed Elahi to expand the qualifications for reimbursement so more students can apply and receive funds.
“I think it’s great that the funds are available, but I’ve found the application process difficult to navigate,” said Eli Lipmen, vice president of finance for the Annenberg School of Communication Masters Association. “I’ve been happy with the level of funding — we couldn’t have had our events without GPSS funds — but the process can be confusing.”
Elahi is aware of the concerns about the reimbursement processes and has his own goals for its improvement.
“Today’s chief complaint is that people say it takes five weeks to get approved and another five to get reimbursed,” he said. “We’re going to change those processes drastically next year. I want to get the approval processes down to two weeks and the reimbursement process to one week.”
The new GPSS will ratify the budget in August 2010. Elahi will select the rest of his finance committee in early September.
“We’ve just started discussing the new budget,” Elahi said. “I think we have great possibilities for improvement next year.”