During a VSA Senate meeting on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022, President of the Vassar Student Association (VSA) Julián Aguilar ’23 discussed a $22,000 deficit that the VSA is currently facing. This deficit is the result of a discrepancy between Vassar’s projected student enrollment, which helps determine the VSA budget each year, and the College’s actual enrollment numbers. The Miscellany News spoke further with Aguilar and VSA Chair of Finance Naveen Malik ’25 in person and via email respectively to better understand how the situation arose.
The main cause of the deficit was inaccurate enrollment numbers, according to Aguilar. He explained, “In our annual budget, we had assumed attendance of 2,417 students. But the actual enrollment figure for this year is 2,360. And we had calculated $400 per student for the activity fee, but we actually received $360.”
According to Aguilar, the VSA is given an assumed enrollment to help form the budget for the year. But to provide a more concrete idea of how much money the VSA will have for each following fiscal year, the VSA just recently passed the Annual Budgeting Reform Act, according to Malik. Aguilar added, “I had hoped that because we calculate an estimate of the number of students that are JYA, and an estimated number of students that are on leave, we would not be in a deficit, but we are.”
Malik explained that a portion of the Student Activity Fee, paid annually by Vassar students, funds the VSA. “The problem with collecting the Student Activity Fee per semester is that during annual budgeting the semester before the Student Activity Fee is collected, the Annual Budgeting committee only has a rough estimate of the amount that they should budget for the next academic year,” Malik detailed.
Rough estimates for enrollment and activity fees become problematic when the numbers are as far off as they were this year, as Vassar took in less money from this fee due to lower enrollment numbers than expected. Aguilar said: “I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that class of 2023 was one of the largest classes, and now I believe, then, Class of 2024, and 2025, were much lower. So it’s skewed things quite far. And also, it’s just difficult combining pre-COVID admission class figures with post ones.”
Estimations for the VSA annual budget also raised issues in 2017, when similar problems emerged. Aguilar said, “But since then, [we] have been, one, very conservative with how much money we disperse, and two, with our estimates. They tend to be on par, which is why we have this big surplus now. So we’re not in debt, but we are in a budget deficit,” he added.
The VSA has been able to remedy the situation with its surplus fund. Aguilar noted that the VSA is trying to utilize this resource as much as possible: “In terms of filling the gap, we’re not limited in that way. There’s very minimal limitations on even just the surplus in general. The surplus is part of the executive discretionary fund, which the Exec Board has the sole authority and discretion to decide how do we use that, or [do we put] that in our operating fund.”
Initially, before deciding to use the surplus fund to handle much of the deficit, the VSA considered taking funds from student organizations that had annual budgets through VSA Finance but had not submitted leadership, as required for such budgets by the VSA. This strategy was discussed in the VSA Senate meeting on Oct. 30, as Aguilar emphasized the delicacy of the situation and emphasized the VSA’s commitment to preserving student organizations’ budgets without any future cuts.
Since the idea was brought up, many organizations without leadership completed the requirements to maintain their annual budget, such as completing treasurer training. The VSA was then able to take the budgets from remaining non-existent orgs, an action that had minimal impact on students, and use it to reduce the deficit.
The action also had minimal financial impact. Malik wrote, “[U]pon reviewing the number of inactive orgs, the amount of money recuperated from cutting org budgets will be minimal. Hence, our goal is to refrain from cutting org budgets unless absolutely necessary, and instead, use the budget surplus to account for the current budget deficit.”
While helpful for a situation such as this one, there are negative consequences to using the surplus fund as well. Malik explained, “[T]he budget surplus has been allocated to funding initiatives that will benefit the Vassar student body. Therefore, certain initiatives will receive slightly reduced funding to cover this deficit.”
Aguilar elaborated on how these initiatives will be negatively impacted, noting: “It is frustrating that a huge chunk of the surplus is just going to have to go to cover this deficit instead of going to services that we really wanted to do. We really wanted to put a lot of money into a bike share program and a textbook accessibility program and storage spaces. And so those unfortunately have to take a hit because of that.”
Malik remained hopeful, writing: “Despite these reductions, we are still working to ensure that all initiatives will be adequately funded using the budget surplus such that these initiatives can be implemented effectively.”