The Financial Insecurity Behind Attendance Inflation

The UC should reconsider the grant process as a whole

After discovering clear misrepresentation in the event attendance numbers that dictate the size of grants to student groups last semester, the Undergraduate Council’s Finance Committee plans to launch a study to survey attendance. Representatives will begin to attend a random selection of UC-funded events in order to measure attendance and compare actual figures with projections on grant applications.

We commend the UC’s attempt to obtain more concrete data through this study in order to gauge the size of the discrepancy between actual and projected attendance. This process will only shed light on student organizations’ behavior, and will help the UC make sure it is not rewarding dishonesty, especially since the current process of granting may even disadvantage groups that are honest in their projections.

In addition to collecting data, the UC should step back and take heed of the larger issue behind inflated event attendance projections: the lack of security in funding that many student organizations face, which is only exacerbated by grant cuts exacted by the UC when it exceeds its weekly budget. The potential for cuts comes on top of the small per-student estimates used to allocate UC money for food, transportation, and speaker or instructor fees, estimates that oftentimes prove insufficient for student organizations.

These incentives may have created an inflation-cut positive feedback loop of sorts, in which student organizations who inflate numbers may cause the UC to exceed its weekly budget on a regular basis, leading to inescapable cuts across the board for all non-collaborating student groups who applied for grants at that time. As a result, those organizations who were initially honest in their attendance projections—and hence needed the entirety of their allocation—could have insufficient funds and start to inflate numbers to curtail the impact of cuts, initiating another insidious cycle of inflation.

In order to discourage projected attendance inflation, we encourage the UC to consider raising its allocations per student to a more realistic level so that student organizations will be able to report honestly. In light of the reality that this issue could also, in part, be due to a sole reliance on grants, the Finance Committee should consider setting up annual operational budgets as another source of secure funding that all organizations will be able to rely on. Whatever alternatives it seeks out, a revaluation of the current grant policy is necessary to curtail the unpredictable nature of indiscriminate cuts to which student groups’ funding is susceptible.

Potential long-term solutions may go beyond a re-structuring of the grants process. UC leaders in the past have brought attention to the disparity between the $75 Harvard students pay and the higher activities fees at other schools, and have vied for increased funding. Given the exaggerations and misrepresentations to which organizations are resorting, the UC and the College administration should reevaluate the funding constraints imposed by our student activities fee. Ultimately, we hope the current UC’s efforts will help restore some sanity to the grant process, and that future reforms will create a more stable underlying system of student group financing.

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