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USF’s Financial Problem is not just a local problem

American Dollar bills and coins scattered across a table.
Speculation about the university's financial situation has raged over the last month. Photo: Mazi Niezgoda.

There is a lot of chatter going on about the financial problems happening here at USF. People are confused and more and more are asking: What do these problems mean? How did this happen?

Around confusion and many questions being thrown, no one really knows how to tackle an answer. The financial problem that USF has been encountering is something many other universities are facing. This is a national concern that stems from the national decrease in university enrollment.

Fewer and fewer people have been enrolling in higher education institutions. The Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) provides enrollment reports, most recently for the fall of 2022 which showed an overall decrease in undergraduate enrollment by 1.6% at the national level and 0.5% decrease in Illinois undergraduate enrollment.

This has had a small impact on the clubs at USF. President of the Student Government Association (SGA), Carter St. Clair shares how it will impact clubs and student engagement.

“There will be some impacts on the overall SGA budget by about $7,000 for next year. This is a change, but the overall budget that it receives is well over $140 to $150 thousand so it's not quite as much of a cut as it appears to be,” St. Clair said. “Clubs will overall get slightly less money proportionally, but the SGA budget is also significantly larger than almost any university of our size.”

It is great that our clubs will not see a terrible impact but St. Clair explains how there were already significant budget cuts to programs like Saints Ambassadors. He brings up how funds for conferences have been cut and a recent instance where students were not provided with lunch at a scholarship competition.

“I think some of the hasty decisions made in response to the budgetary problems are short-sighted and will not actually solve the issues,” St. Clair said.

With these instances, St. Clair anticipates there will likely be rampant budget cuts to various departments. He emphasizes that putting money into more ambassador-like programs and our scholarship competitions to encourage more enrollment especially as a small school is important.

SGA Vice President Vada Arndt explains that as someone who has been in the arts four years, it is interesting to see what the school likes to funnel its money towards. They bring up the instance where students actively brought attention to the St. Bonaventure campus' lack of resources, which has still gone unnoticed by the school, despite being approved by SGA.

Arndt explains how this problem impacts more than just students.

“Not only will SGA, who decides the clubs budgets, feel the pressure of the cuts…we have already seen it affect the staff on campus, specifically the shuttle drivers and off-campus workers. The loss of these positions highly affects students and those who have had their hours cut or positions completely terminated.”

Arndt expresses that by seeing everything more closely, they can say that USF is lucky to have a student-run system but that SGA can only go so far.

“I am unimpressed with the huge pay gaps within the faculty on campus. When the school is actively losing funds and money, the wages of these top-earning faculty members should not be increasing,” Arndt explains. “I believe it is a concern that all students here at USF should be aware of and care about.”

This financial problem stems from a national problem but it does not mean that those in higher level positions can not take the time to make considerate decisions and work to move forward!

St. Clair shares how it is not the budget that worries him, but how it is being used.

“I think most competent universities could make it through if they worked for it,” St. Clair said. “I am more worried about the administration making poor, short-sighted decisions that from my perspective will only make the problem worse.”

Querida de Frías, SGA’s Vice President of Finance, explains that  she thinks what could benefit the school is instead of taking things away, in terms of resources in regards to budgets, take the time to evaluate what a budget change will impact and how we can rebuild the resource to work within the current situation.

Something simple like accessibility buttons not working is an example de Frías brings up to explain how the budget is treated.

“I have sat in meetings where [higher ups] decide large amounts of money are going to certain projects… but I think it's important to focus on keeping what was already working for USF,” de Frías said.

SGA reassures students they will advocate for their needs but despite their positions, SGA can only do so much and at the end of the day, it is those in top-earning leadership positions that make the final decisions. It is the responsibility of SGA to advocate for students' needs; it is the responsibility of people in leadership positions to ensure students’ needs are being met!

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