Budget Essentials Program

Swatties are constantly flooded with emails advertising events ranging from political science speakers to an Indian-themed take over of the student-run cafe. While I am often intrigued by many of these emails advertising pop-up coffee talks with the deans or lunchtime piano concert series, one recent email caught my eye. The message invited faculty, staff, and students to enter the lottery for a spot in a program that the finance office was hosting called “Budget Essentials.” The email posed compelling questions, such as:

How are budget decisions made, and how does the process work?
How does Swarthmore manage its endowment?
What factors influence the price of tuition, room and board?
How does financial aid work?

The email encouraged those who were interested in the answers to attend this installment of three lectures given by Finance Department staff. Seeing as I had often asked myself those same questions, and often was asked those questions by others, I figured I’d register.

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While many people were driven by curiosity, my interest in the program also served a more practical purpose with applications to my Presidential Sustainability Research Fellowship project. My project is investigating the feasibility of using biofuels (a heating fuel that is made from a plant or other previously living material) at Swarthmore’s heat plant. Because biofuels are likely to be more expensive than the natural gas that Swarthmore is currently using, I thought it would be useful to understand how budgeting works and what went into decisions regarding spending.

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Fast forward a month, and I was in my first Friday afternoon Budget Essentials session listening to the Vice President for Finance and Administration talk about the budget formulation process. The room was filled predominantly with staff, along with a sprinkling of curious students. I have had several opportunities as a student at Swarthmore to get a behind the scenes feel for how the college operates, and this program encapsulated that. I have realized through experiences like these that there are so many people working for Swarthmore who are largely invisible to the everyday student going to and from class, but who are essential in the operation of the college.

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Furthermore, I appreciated that students were given the same opportunities as faculty and staff to learn about the College’s operations. The information that I learned in the Budget Essentials Program and the mere inclusion of students in the program gave me insight into how much the college truly values students, their education, and overall experience at Swarthmore.

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