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Where does my tuition money go when I'm not looking?

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APRIL 25, 2023

UC Berkeley rests upon an image of prestige, gripping tightly superlative “bests” and eager to demonstrate the vivacious student life that courses through Sequoia-shaded paths. Yet, the ivy-hallowed halls of the University in the mind’s eye tends to ignore that the green tendrils that encapsulate academia are not verdant leaves, but sheaves of cash. 

As The Daily Californian itself has reported, the price of tuition has famously skyrocketed, outpacing cost-of-living hikes and inflation. While financial aid has been massively beneficial to many (including myself), often the keen student wonders: “what does my money do?”

The University of California’s budget is monstrous, and it is far beyond the scope of one student to dissect the intricacies of each mote of money. However, it is of worth to examine a funding recipient of great notoriety: the Associated Students of the University of California, ASUC. 

Before I continue, here are some figures to keep in mind:

  • According to the 2021-2022 (most recently) published budget report, UC Berkeley took in $1,004,683,000 in tuition and fees. With roughly 45k students (graduate and undergraduate), this averages to an estimated $22,326.29 per student (on average). 
  • According to the ASUC’s 2023-2024 preliminary budget, the combined internal budget and RSO allocation amounted to $1,792,072. Disaggregated, $809,320 alone was relegated to ASUC internal budget. This is a decrease from the 2023 financial year budget, which was capped at $1,689,513 – with a larger $877,578 relegated to the ASUC’s Internal budget. 
  • The ASUC Statement of Activities from the 2021 financial year (most recently available) shows a $1,339,442 increase in net assets. 
  • Taking the above into account, be mindful that ASUC is funded through both hefty cash donations and through UC Berkeley itself.

Drawing on aforementioned published financial statements, I posit that students deserve better financial transparency from the ASUC, in the form of popular oversight. First I will explain what aspects of ASUC budget I find troubling, and will conclude with propositions for democratic supervision over ASUC’s budget. 

overForemost, I do find laudable the fact that ASUC had both reduced their own operating costs a significant $68,000 between the 2024 and 2023 financial year budgets, while also managing to increase the funding supplied to RSOs by nearly the same amount. However, note that about half of ASUC’s budget is the ASUC. For every $1 spent on the RSOs last year, ASUC spent $1.08 on itself. To this end, I question the tangibility of this large internal fund; while many services of the ASUC are useful, at the same time the registered student organizations (RSOs) the public most directly interfaces with contend with tight budgets. Being that the ASUC is funded in part through student fees and tuition, I propose that the function of the ASUC should veer towards supporting the elective organizations to which students belong.

I am not, however, arguing for a smaller budget – I think that the ASUC is a good thing for us to be spending on. In fact, I advocate that the University of California should make efforts to increase the funding that the ASUC receives. That is, dependent on a change-of-course for ASUC’s spending. For example, their budget reports an aforementioned $1.3M revenue increase, on top of $7.57M of existing assets. Why does ASUC need multi-millions worth of savings? Being a representative union of students, I propose that they should actively increase their budgetary disbursements to RSOs in an effort to “balance the budget” – rather than operate with profit, to operate with the ethos of maximizing the amount of revenue they can funnel to student organizations. 

Accordingly, it is time for ASUC to make a greater effort to publicize their finances. While they do a commendable job in listing the expenditures afforded to each RSO, the only reliable public information is a once-yearly spreadsheet that does not account for the breakdown of expenses within RSOs; if you want to know what a club is spending money on, you have to go through them. I propose that, in order to provide the public a measure of financial transparency, ASUC should present an updated and itemized budget spreadsheet. 

RSOs are often the beating heart of student life at Berkeley, many representing affinity groups that seek funding to increase camaraderie and community within such a large campus. Being able to understand the organization that funds these groups is greatly important for not only transparency, but integrity through budgeting and financing. 

Tohar Zamir is a UC Berkeley junior. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

APRIL 25, 2023