GVSU officials need to be transparent with Presidents' Ball cost

By Lanthorn Editorial Board | 2/19/18 2:17am

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Presidents' Ball is a long-standing Grand Valley State University tradition. Starting off in the Kirkhof Center, the event has since moved downtown to the DeVos Place and grown to an audience of 4,500 people. 

According to GVSU's Winter 2017 Enrollment Report, 23,963 students were enrolled during the winter 2017 semester. This means that around 19 percent of the study body had the opportunity to attend the 2017 Presidents' Ball, which used around $100,000 of student tuition money in total. 

The money used for the highly promoted event comes from the Student Life Fund, which is made up of tuition money. Student senate provides an allocation amount for the event ($40,000 for 2018), and whatever cost is left over after revenue is accounted for is also pulled from the Student Life Fund. 

Many students, as well as other campus community members, are completely unaware of how much Presidents' Ball costs to put on. The allocation amount is accessible, but the actual budget in full is not readily available to students, nor is it particularly transparent, despite the event's cost being described as such by many officials.

The enormous amount spent on Presidents' Ball ($138,790.74 in 2017) is beyond what many weddings cost. And the fact that the event still produces a deficit with an allocation of around $40,000, plus ticket revenue totaling over $80,000, is concerning. The budget doesn't seem to be particularly strict, either, considering how the event has gone over budget heading on three years in a row now.

Aside from the substantial cost of the yearly event, the misreporting done by the Office of Student Life (OSL) errs on the side of carelessness. Even if GVSU does have the money to bail out any overages in expense, the OSL should be clear on that. In the 2016 Presidents' Ball budget, approximately $16,000 is unaccounted for, creating a hole greater than $4,000. In 2017, the event was nearly $10,000 in the hole. 

When representatives from the GVSU student senate asked about how much money should be allocated to the event this year, they cut the allocation amount from $45,000 to $40,000 based on the event's "profit" the past two years. This supposed profit is based on one erroneous budget and another that had not yet been compiled. This could potentially even create a larger deficit, as the 2018 Presidents' Ball numbers are expected to be released around spring break.

However, in justification of the sizable cost, GVSU officials assert that the event is a "Laker tradition" and put on for the benefit of students. There is no denying the popularity of the event, nor the good times students have while attending, but one can easily dispute the justification for how much is spent every year on one single night. One explanation for the event's cost is that the university is using Presidents' Ball as a tactic to get more students to come to GVSU because this event sets them apart from other universities. 

As enrollment is increasingly competitive, GVSU could be using Presidents' Ball to draw in potential students. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, aside from the fact that they are using current students' tuition dollars to do it. The event gets a little more expensive and extravagant each year, seemingly ignoring more "low key" venue options that could host a crowd of students for less cost (one example would be the Fieldhouse Arena). 

​Recently, the Central Michigan University Board of Trustees approved extension of in-state tuition rates to students from across the U.S. This allows CMU to recruit beyond state borders. A move like this only demonstrates the competitiveness of enrollment in Michigan, something GVSU administrators understand well as they are constantly making moves to boost their numbers.

One way or another, GVSU students pay for Presidents' Ball. The least they can ask from those in charge of planning and funding the event is explicit accuracy and transparency. If an event is taking place to get prospective students to come to GVSU, the students who go here now should know what they're paying for first. 

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