November 19, 2019

Webster University SGA reviews possible change to Student Grant Fund policy

Student Government Association (SGA) is considering a policy that could effectively end cash advances given to students going on educational trips. The Student Grant Fund (SGF) provides cash advancements as well as reimbursements to groups and individual students attending academic conferences around the country. Currently, SGF can provide cash advances for trips to cover travel, registration and hotel fees.

With the current policy, student organizations or individuals can apply for an advance to attend a trip. All of the necessary forms can be found on http://involved.webster.edu on the SGA page.

Once the appropriate forms are submitted, students attend an SGF Committee meeting to formally request funds. If funds are approved, Chris Whitmore, SGA vice president and chair of the SGF Committee, makes a motion at the regular SGA meeting on behalf of the student or organization. A majority vote officially designates the funds.

Whitmore tabled the new policy at the Tuesday, Nov. 20 regular SGA meeting due to time constraints after a motion.

Webster University senior education major Tyler Jensen voices his opinion about potential changes to the student grant fund (SGF) process at Student Government Association’s (SGA) meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 20 in Sunnen Lounge. SGA will debate SGF at its next meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 4. PHOTO BY MEGAN FAVIGNANO.

Tyler Jensen, senior music education major, attended the Nov. 20 SGA meeting with the intention of addressing the body about possible changes to SGF. Jensen said SGF was “essential” to the trips he has attended as a student.

Jensen said SGF funds allowed seven students to attend the Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC). During his first year at the convention, when SGF funding was not requested, only two students were able to afford the trip. Jensen said this was because those in attendance were unaware additional funding was available.

“There are a number of students that have gone on amazing trips that would not have been able to without these funds,” Jensen said. “This isn’t a cheap school, but people know they get value from this education. These advances will make school more expensive and ultimately lower attendance of these trips.”

Whitmore said the policy was being rewritten to “create a reimbursement system.” The system would pay for student’s out-of-pocket costs through a refund from Webster University.

“We’ve had issues with people signing up for trips and SGF paying for hotel rooms or registration fees, and then someone drops out at the last minute,” Whitmore said. “So unless the student is replaced, we lose that money.”

One such incident involved a trip planned by SGA. Members of SGA attended a national conference for student government associations held in St. Louis. However, three members of SGA dropped out of the trip at the last moment. In turn, their $300 registration fees were vacated, which cost the university a total of $900.

“The schools and colleges within the university already work off a reimbursement system rather than an advancesystem,” Director of the University Center and Student Activities and SGA Advisor John Gins- burg said. “We have to remember that this body has limited power. And if a decision is made higher up in the financial system to end student advances, then the decision will be made. And there won’t be much we can do about it.”

The schools and colleges within Webster University offer reimbursement for food and daily expenses while on trips. But travel and hotel fees are often paid in advance. Whitmore said SGA encountered problems with groups making last-minute changes to their trips after funds were dispersed. The changes resulted in a loss of cash for the SGF.

“We are holding those individuals account- able,” said Michael Grosch, SGA president. “We can’t try to fix this issue and not hold ourselves accountable. Those members are paying a por- tion of that fee back. I’m not aware of the por- tion, but they are paying a portion back.”

The issue will come before SGA at the next regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 4 at 3 p.m. in the Sunnen Lounge. Several members of SGA are anticipating intense debate on the issue.

“Student government is divided on this is- sue,” Grosch said. “We are coming at it from all sides. If I could say one thing, it would be to tell students, ‘Don’t think we aren’t thinking about you, because we really are.’”

Chris Hawk, sergeant-at-arms and junior international relations major, told Jensen he was sympathetic to his complaint. Hawk also said he would vote against a change in policy if Jensen could show cause.

“If you pack this place with students with the same grievance and they fill this room to tell us that, I’ll vote against it,” Hawk said. “I’ll say that here and now. If you show me this is a problem and this change is a problem, then I’ll vote against, because I’m a student advocate first.”

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