Why are we still being charged the semesterly Student Activity Fee?

Date: January 2021


Hi Deans,

I’m wondering why we’re still being charged the semesterly Student Activity Fee when there’s been a noted lack of activities on campus this semester. Surely the cost of running virtual events and the moratorium on expensing food/refreshments for those student groups that do meet for allowed in-person events cannot compare to what it would cost to run programming for a “normal” semester


Grad on a budget

Dear Grad on a budget,

Thank you for asking this very reasonable question. It is true that expenditures from Cornell budgets that were designed for in-person activities look very different for 2020-21 than expenditures during previous years. The graduate and professional Student Activity Fee is wholly under the purview of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GPSA). GPSA has been nimble and very thoughtful in considering use of student activity funds this year. Specifically, the GPSA revised its policies to allow support of online community events. Further, the GPSA contributed $60,000 to Cornell’s Access Fund to help graduate and professional students facing COVID-related emergencies in the spring. I understand that the GPSA intends to contribute additional resources to the Access Fund this semester; the amount will be determined soon.

The process behind setting the Student Activity Fee is specified in the GPSA charter, which states: “A. The GPSA, during the fall semester of odd-numbered years, through the authority delegated by the President of the University and the Board of Trustees, shall be charged with recommending the amount and the allocation of the Graduate and Professional Student Activity Fee, subject to the approval of the President of the University. B. Neither an opt-out option nor an option to pay extra will be allowed to exempt a student from paying the Student Activity Fee. i. Exceptions may be considered if recommended and approved by the GPSA, and approved by the President of the University. 

To summarize, as specified in the GPSA charter, the current Student Activity Fee was set in Fall 2019 and has been collected each semester since then. The GPSA revised its policies to enable use of the funds to meet the unique needs of graduate and professional students this year. The next fee-setting year will be Fall 2021. Concerned students can get involved to have a say in that process. If you have specific questions or recommendations on how the GPSA uses the Student Activity Fee, please contact your field representatives or a member of the GPSA leadership. 


Kathryn Boor
Dean of the Graduate School and Vice Provost for Graduate Education