Pitzer unearths $200,000: College discovers previously unaccounted-for funds

A group of students lounge on the grass next to a building.
Pitzer College uncovered around $200,000 of previously unaccounted-for funds last April, which will be used in part to fund the Student Enhancement Plan. (Zoe Cowan • The Student Life)

Pitzer College uncovered approximately $200,000 of previously unaccounted-for funds last April, which, unbeknownst to current administrators and students, had accumulated for over a decade, Dean of Campus Life Dan Hirsch announced at a Pitzer Student Senate meeting Jan. 26.

The money had been accumulating for the past “15 or 16 years,” according to Hirsch, and the account was unknown to all current administrators at Pitzer. 

Administrators plan to put the money toward a variety of projects aimed at enhancing the student experience on campus, including both facilities improvements and new programs, among other initiatives, according to Hirsch.

Once the account was identified, treasurer Laura Troendle, Vice President for Student Affairs Mike Segawa and Hirsch determined that the money, now called “the student activities fund strategic reserve account,” would go back to the students, Hirsch said. 

“It’s an awesome problem to have, right? How often do you find $200,000? Not often or ever,” Hirsch said.

But it’s unclear how the money escaped detection in the first place.

“Frankly, we’re trying to figure that out too,” Hirsch said. 

Beginning “15 or 16 years ago,” the student senate operating budget was calculated by multiplying the student activities fee by 1,000, the approximate enrollment of the college at the time, according to Hirsch.

“It’s an awesome problem to have, right? How often do you find $200,000? Not often or ever.”   

— Dean of Students Dan Hirsch 

 

When enrollment exceeded 1,000, the student activities fees charged to the excess students accumulated in a separate account instead of going to the student senate operating budget, according to Hirsch.

“I don’t know … if that was on purpose or on accident,” Hirsch said. “I have no context there.” 

As the college’s enrollment has increased from 1,000 to approximately 1,060 over the past 16 years, the account continued to grow until it was discovered this past year.

Hirsch said he and former college associate treasurer Lori Yoshino discovered the account last April when running a report on the senate’s standard reserve account in Workday, the college’s financial management system. In addition to the expected reserve account, the report showed a second account containing $200,000.

“And then we were like, wait, what is this? Why is there a $60,000 account and … a $200,000 account?” Hirsch said. 

Yoshino inherited the 1,000 student system when she started her job over a decade ago, according to Hirsch. Hirsch said the practice continued due to a lack of communication.

“I think there just wasn’t a conversation about changing it because nobody knew any better,” Hirsch said. “So every year the same practice happened with no one being the wiser, and here we are because we accidentally coded something that helped us figure it out.” 

 

A cafe overlooks a pool at sunset.
The Shakedown, a student-run cafe, will be run by food service provider Bon Appétit under the new plan. (HuxleyAnn Huefner • The Student Life)

However the accounting error began, Hirsh is excited about the opportunities the secret account will provide going forward.

“There have been a lot of really cool student initiatives or programs or ideas that have come from multiple places that we’ve wanted to implement over the years and just haven’t had the funds,” he added. “And so this gives us the opportunity to do some of that.”

Pending approval from the Pitzer Campus Life Committee, the funds will be used to transition management of the Shakedown Café from students to Bon Appétit — allowing for evening and weekend operation and possible meal replacement options, to renovate the Grove House and to change the Gold Student Center multipurpose room into a student union with couches and ping pong tables, according to Hirsch.

Pitzer will also create offices for campus life and student leadership and hire a full-time personal fitness trainer, among other possible initiatives, Hirsch said. Funds will not be used for existing salaries or positions, administrators told Pitzer Student Senate. 

As part of the plan, going forward, the college will dedicate 10 percent of total student activity fees toward a new campus life programming budget to “mitigate the unreasonable burden on student programmers,” according to the presentation to the student senate. 

Like Hirsch, Pitzer Student Senate President Clint Isom PZ ’20 expressed enthusiasm about the possibilities the new fund provides. 

“That’s so exciting that we have [the $200,000]. I was really pumped that we have an opportunity to do something with our money,” Isom said.

Troendle stressed transparency going forward with student fees, and was also pleased with the plans for the fund. 

“I think the [Office of Student Affairs] team has worked hard to use this as an opportunity to partner with senate to use it for seed funding for a new chapter in student life at Pitzer with more support and access,” Troendle said via email. 

Part of the strategic reserve account has already been used to purchase electricity-generating treadmills in the Gold Student Center, according to Hirsch. 

Pitzer Student Senate unanimously passed a resolution supporting the plan Sunday.

This article was last updated 11:06 a.m. on Feb. 7, 2020.

This article was updated 11:53 p.m. on Feb. 6, 2020.

Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly used a caption from a prior story on a photo of the Shakedown. TSL regrets this error.
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