Requesting student conference funds is no fun

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The National Citizen Leadership Conference sponsored by American Promise was held in Washington D.C. this past June. I got to go, but the path that got me there was not well-paved.

Dr. Kathleen Cole, associate professor of social science, informed me and another student of this opportunity, suggesting that we attend. (I wrote about it for the Opinion page last month.)

We both jumped at the chance. We’re both politically aware, socially conscious and ready to make our voices heard.

First step? Fill out the necessary paperwork to request funding from the Student Activity Fee Allocation Committee (SAFAC), as we could not afford the hotel, airfare and other expenses on our own.

SAFAC is a subcommittee of the Student Senate and grants funds to students to attend professional development conferences and other events outside of Metro State. Committee members control a huge budget—doling out well over $600,000 last year for student organizations and conference requests.

The money really adds up when you have 11,000 students paying $4 per credit per semester on their tuition bills. The express purpose of activity fees? Enriching students’ academic experience.

Many students are unaware that money has been set aside specifically so they can to attend up to two conferences while enrolled in school.

Sounds like a great resource, right?

Sure is. But, word to the wise: applying for SAFAC funds is the most convoluted and frustrating process I’ve ever had to endure.

First problem? The application was extremely, excruciatingly long. Cole, a classmate and I sat for three hours in in the professor’s office trying to fill out our application and we still had not scratched the surface.

Next issue? There was no way to save a partially completed application. Everything we entered evaporated without a trace. Just like those tedious hours that we could have spent doing something else.

The third circle of this bureaucratic hell? Figuring out not one, not two, but three different scenarios for travel accommodations.

It makes sense to enter details about hotel, flight and other transportation costs. But I contend there is absolutely no reason to mandate repeating that process—not once, but twice—using distinct accommodation options.

By the third scenario, Cole was so frustrated that she suggested we should charter a helicopter to get from the airport to the hotel.

Ultimately, we got the money we sought.  But considering what we endured, it’s no wonder students forgo seeking funds from SAFAC.

Metro State students have busy lives. They cannot devote countless hours retyping the same information into an OrgSync form then sitting through a committee hearing like they are on trial. No one wants to go through all of that for an experience that might be rewarding—but not necessary for graduation.

SAFAC is a student-led body. The funding forms and process are supposedly designed by students for students. So why are they standing in the way of us accessing the very money that we contribute to the Student Life coffers?

SAFAC, can you smooth the rocky road of conference requests and streamline your services?