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Student Groups Get Individual Accounts

By Rima Arnaout
Associate News Editor

The Office of Residential Life and Student Life Programs assigned new individual MIT accounts to twenty graduate and undergraduate student groups this week as a continuation of the Student Group Financial Pilot, a joint effort on behalf of RLSLP and the Graduate Student Council Funding Board to streamline student group finances.

The individual account system is supposed to provide "more immediate access to accurate information" about student accounts at MIT, said Edmund A. Jones of Student Activities Finances in the RLSLP Office.

With the old accounting system, "the level of service through MIT accounting doesn't meet the needs of the student groups," Jones said.

The twenty newest individual accounts were given to groups including class councils, Counterpoint, the Association of Student Activities, Scandinavian Students Association, and Sloan Crew.

In a separate program for groups funded by the GSC, the graduate groups with new individual accounts will also be set up with child accounts linked to those MIT accounts in the next few weeks as the SAP R/3 accounting software replaces MIT's legacy system. The new system is designed so the GSC can deposit funds directly into a group's child account but not have access to that group's larger bank account.

The individual account system improves service by giving student groups a turnaround of only 24 to 48 hours for reimbursements as well as increased ability to use direct funding instead of the reimbursement system for large purchases, Jones said.

Furthermore, because each student group has its own account under the pilot program, student group treasurers can see a record of that group's transactions just by looking at the account's activity. Transactions are less likely to get lost because each group puts its assets in its own, separate account, Jones said.

The twenty student groups were picked to join the pilot program based on their activity. "It was really kind of informal," said GSC Treasurer Carsten D. Hohnke G. "Basically, there was a limited amount of slots for groups that could be involved we wanted to use groups that would have a lot of activity so that they could take advantage of the new benefits that are associated with that system."

Trial accounts prove successful

A core of six groups were given individual MIT accounts back in the fall, including the Pakistani Students' Association, the International Students' Association, Dance Troupe, European Club, the National Society of Black Engineers, and the Class of '99. In general, the six have responded well to the new program.

"Student groups can instantaneously observe postings to their accounts," said Shuja U. Keen '99, PaksMIT and Class of '99 treasurer. "We no longer need outside bank accounts. MIT provides almost home banking convenience whereby student groups can download their activity to their home computer."

Child accounts offer direct access

For the graduate student groups included in this pilot program, the financial process will change further this spring as the child accounts get implemented.

Updating the MIT accounting system to the SAP system will provide GSC-funded student groups with a child account. "We will transfer GSC funding directly to" each group's child account, Jones said, and the student groups "will bill directly to it."

"GSC officers as well as student group officers will have direct access to seeing the activity in the child account," Jones said.

Jones said that the finalization of the child account idea had happened so quickly that there hadn't been time to bring other funding groups such as the Undergraduate Association's Finance Board in on the idea.

As to whether the UA Finboard would follow in the GSC's footsteps if the child-account aspect of the pilot program goes well, Hohnke said, there is "nothing set up yet."

A group including Jones, Hohnke, Keen, and the ASA treasurer Matthew L. McGann '01 meets bi-monthly to discuss funding policy.

"We'll keep an eye on [the program] and see how it's going once we reach the end of the semester. We'll read updates from the groups that have used the accounts, then we'll have a better idea."

"My vision is that in the future all groups will have this," Hohnke said.

The Student Group Financial Pilot is the Funding Board's first joint financial project with RLSLP.

"Carsten and I informally discussed it two weeks ago," Jones said of the child accounts aspect of the pilot program. The goal of the program is to give student groups and GSCofficers "access to their funds, while at the same time retaining the accountability" of student group treasurer over their group's finances.

The standard student account system consists of "one MIT account that holds the assets of over 100 MIT student groups," Jones said. "That has to be broken down manually."

Jones broke down the amounts due to each group on his computer, making it necessary for student group treasurers to go through Jones in order to monitor the activity of their accounts. Student groups would have money for their operations transferred to them through an external checking account handled by Jones.

The single-account system also allows for more errors because when a group deposits money to the account, it sits indistinguishable from the assets from other groups.

Aside from the twenty student groups that were assigned individual accounts and the six core groups given individual accounts last fall, all graduate and undergraduate groups with accounts still operate from the old, single-account system.

With the old system, funding from the GSC worked more on a reimbursement basis, with less opportunity for student groups to ask for money before making large purchases.

GSC Announces Further Changes

The GSC Funding Board announced other changes to its funding policies at its Feb. 2 meeting. The changes include streamlining application dates for funding and reimbursement. "For the first time, allocations for all types of funding are due at the same time," Hohnke said.

Furthermore, the GSC General Council approved a Funding Board-submitted proposal for expanding funding guidelines. According to the GSC's homepage, this will include the funding of events that take place off campus and the funding of MIT-required expenses such as facility rent and insurance.