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Student organizations at Harvard College saw a median funding cut of more than 67 percent of their maximum eligible semesterly requests, according to the Harvard Undergraduate Association’s 2023-24 Club Funding Report.
Each semester, the HUA’s Finance Team allocates money from its budget to recognized student organizations that request funding. This fall, the 242 clubs that submitted funding requests were eligible to receive a median of roughly $2,319, but they were ultimately allocated a median of $653. In all, the HUA distributed to clubs $219,628 of their total yearly budget of approximately $557,844.
The HUA also offers monthly funding allocations for clubs, distributing a total of $14,426 this semester thus far in grants for September through November.
Some club leaders said they were disappointed by the large funding cuts.
According to the report, the Harvard Ballroom Dance Team was found to be eligible for $11,339 in funding, but the HUA allocated the club just $100 — representing a roughly 99 percent funding cut.
“We have had to cut down on social events, and — for the second year in a row — delay our plan to acquire a new plus-size ballroom costume for team members to use,” Harvard Ballroom Dance Team Treasurer Dante J. Minutillo ’24 wrote in an email. “We also had to reduce financial aid for club activities for our veteran members.”
The team requested funding to pay coaches, operational costs for their fall competition, and fees to participate in competitions held at other universities, as well as to fund several social events, Minutillo wrote.
According to Minutillo, HUA Co-Treasurer Corbin C. Lubianski ’24 attributed the funding decision to the team’s high annual revenue — averaging around $14,000 to $18,000 per year — and the $900 of funding that they receive from the Club Sports Office.
Lubianski wrote in an emailed statement that the Ballroom Dance Team’s funding amount was “unfortunate given a large eligible request” but declined to comment further.
The Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra also received cuts to their funding request. The HUA determined $15,066 of the club’s request was eligible for funding, and approved approximately $1,597 in funding for the club.
HRO President Nicholas K. Lee ’25 wrote that the organization is “deeply disappointed” in the funding decision, citing a large membership of students who devote at least five hours weekly to the club.
Lee also pointed to free concert tickets and social events that the HRO offers to Harvard students, which he believes should “translate into a high percentage of eligible funding granted, which has clearly not been the case.”
Lubianski wrote in his emailed statement that the club’s “internal decisions like providing free tickets for students” do not entitle them to more funding.
“The Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra is widely known throughout campus to have substantial revenue sources that other student organizations do not have the privilege of,” he added. “Note that we still fund student organizations regardless of their revenue, but their amount may be subjected to larger cuts.”
Lee said more HUA funding would have allowed the HRO to perform more large symphonic works, stage additional concerts, and collaborate more frequently with other campus groups.
“Based on past experience with HUA grant cycles, we know that we cannot budget for any meaningful HUA grants and we therefore enact our own revenue-generating and cost-saving measures,” Lee wrote.
Some clubs saw less dramatic funding cuts. The Phillips Brooks House Association, a community service organization on campus, received the full $18,000 it requested from the HUA.
Other clubs that received high allocations were the Harvard Investment Association, which received $2,622 of $8,750 requested, and the Student Astronomers at Harvard-Radcliffe, which received $2,770 of an eligible $9,067.
Many affinity groups, including the Harvard Society of Arab Students, the Generational African American Students Association, and Harvard Undergraduate PRIMUS — an organization for first-generation, low-income students — also saw allocations in the thousands.
According to Lubianski, factors that go into calculating the total funding disbursement include club size, external revenue, previous grant funding, existing sanctions from receipt audits, and organization classification.
Some types of clubs can also receive funding through other avenues, such as the Club Sports Office or external sponsors.
“We take student organization comments into consideration when reviewing their grant application, but this rarely extends to the funding cut calculations,” Lubianski wrote.
Lubianski added that the Finance Team aims to fund student organizations with smaller outside revenue sources. Clubs that submitted larger funding requests were more likely to have their requests reduced significantly because many of their listed expenses did not follow the HUA’s Finance Guidelines.
“The Finance Team does not expect many organizations to be satisfied with their grant allocation as the Finance Team sympathizes with the large eligible requests with our limited budget from the DSO,” Lubianski wrote.
The HUA is allocated money by the Dean of Students Office from the Student Activities Fee fund, which has declined due to an increase in students opting out from paying the optional $200 Student Activities Fee upon admission.
During a September meeting, Lubianski said the SAF fund is $70,000 lower this year than last.
“If students make the choice to opt out of their SAF payment which funds student organizations, student organizations should reconsider how they approach funding their budgets — like requesting dues from their members,” Lubianski wrote in his emailed statement.
Another factor to the decrease in per-club allocations is the rise in the number of student organizations who requested funding since the establishment of the HUA.
In the last year of the Undergraduate Council, the predecessor to the HUA that was abolished in 2022, only 152 clubs requested funding over both semesters, according to Lubianski. During the last academic year — the first year of the HUA — 383 organizations requested funding.
The amount of money requested by individual clubs has also grown, Lubianski wrote. Lubianski advised student organizations disappointed by the cuts to seek external revenue sources rather than relying solely on HUA funding.
“Ultimately, the Finance Team does push the expectation that the HUA should not be the student organization’s only source of funding until the HUA receives a larger budget, which requires more students to pay their optional student activities fee,” Lubianski wrote.
—Staff writer Natalie K Bandura can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Jonah C. Karafiol can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonahkarafiol.
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