Student governments in the United States
In the United States, these groups are often known student government, associated students, student senate, or less commonly a student's union. There is one instance of a government of the student body, at Iowa State University. In the U.S., the phrase "student union" often refers to a "student activity center" (also known as a "student center" or "student commons"), a building with dining halls, game rooms, lounges, student offices, and other spaces for student activities. At institutions with large graduate, medical school, and individual "college" populations, there are often student governments that serve those specific constituencies.
Universities that call their legislative councils "Student Assembly" include the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Dartmouth College, Cornell University, Wesleyan University, the College of William and Mary, Christopher Newport University, Penn State University, the State University of New York (SUNY), and Bentley University. At Yale University, the undergraduate student government is known as the Yale College Council. To this date the University of Colorado Boulder has the largest budget for a student government in the country, overseeing a $36.6 million dollar budget annually at University of Colorado Student Government.
- 1 Officers
- 2 High School Officers
- 3 Structures
- 4 Responsibilities
- 5 Relationship to the Institution
- 6 Examples
- 6.1 University of Oklahoma
- 6.2 University of Florida
- 6.3 Michigan State University
- 6.4 University of Michigan
- 6.5 College of William and Mary
- 6.6 Stetson University
- 6.7 Student Senate for California Community Colleges
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- President (chief executive officer)
- Vice President (sometimes also serves as chair of the senate)
- Secretary (sometimes combined with treasurer to form the position of Treasurer/Secretary)
- Speaker (and sometimes Deputy Speaker)
- Senator (sometimes called Representative)
High School Officers
In US high schools, officers typically include:
- Class Advisor (a teacher from the school)
- Vice President
Many student governments are structured similarly to the United States Government, consisting of distinct executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Alternatively, a parliamentary model is followed. These structures often include elements which are not found in the federal government (e.g. legislative veto, programming branches, initiative, recall, referendum). In some cases, student governments follow a corporate model where offices reflect business roles such as Vice President of Finance, Director, etc.
Also, many universities with significant graduate, law, and medical school programs have separate student governments for the graduate and undergraduate student bodies. Similarly, multiple undergraduate student governments sometimes form to address specific facets of university decision-making. At the University of Texas, for example, students are served by three equal and independent student governance organizations: the Student Government represents students generally, but focuses on undergraduate student life matters; the Senate of College Councils represents undergraduate and graduate students in academic affairs; and the Graduate Student Assembly represents graduate students in both academic and student affairs. While some student governments incorporate undergraduates and graduates together, at the University of Oklahoma, for example, the legislature is bicameral: The Graduate Student Senate and the Undergraduate Student Congress (house). The other branches represent all students. For instance, a graduate student was elected UOSA President (student body president) for the 2010-2011 academic school year and the majority of the student court is traditionally law students.
Within their capacity as representatives of the student body, student governments may fulfill a range of responsibilities, such as:
- Representing the interests and concerns of the student body and serving on college-wide committees made up of students, faculty, administrators, and staff members
- Disbursing mandatory fees for student activities to clubs, organizations, and campus offices
- Sponsoring campus-wide programs (e.g. Homecoming, concerts, parades, speakers, entertainment, discount cards, food pantries, book swaps, etc.)
- Chartering and regulating student organizations
Relationship to the Institution
Most universities and colleges (both public and private) in the United States are governed by a Board of Trustees or Regents. Student governments tend to be chartered by the Board but, in the case of public universities operated by a State, may be recognized by the state legislature. Their structure, purpose and responsibilities are usually established in a constitution ratified by the student body. Some states, such as California and Florida, specifically provide for "student body organizations" in their public institutions by statute. (e.g. Cal Education Code § 76060 (Community Colleges); Cal Education Code § 89300 (Universities)).
Student governments have historically been considered auxiliaries of the university to which they belong. Since ultimate responsibility over the direction of a university is usually vested in a Chancellor or President appointed by the Board, some conflicts may arise between Student Government and the university administration, especially in the area of fiscal matters. In addition to a student government, many universities also establish governments for faculty (e.g. Faculty Senate) and staff (e.g. Staff Assembly). In such cases, there often exist links and dependencies between these bodies. Many colleges/universities also allow the student governments to control the student activities (student life) funds generated by the fees students pay each quarter/semester. This usually establishes a strong power for the governing body of students because control over money is power and strong influence.
Student government budgets range from as high as $36.6 million (CU-Boulder) to less than a few thousand dollars. Large public residential universities tend to enjoy the largest operational budgets, while commuter-based public colleges and private colleges tend to have the smallest budgets. More than 71 percent of American "SG" officers are compensated through salaries, stipends, scholarships, and tuition waivers, according to the SG Salary Survey. The American Student Government Association, the professional association for collegiate student governments, maintains an annually updated database of student government information including budgets, number of members, salaries, corporate structure and number of recognized clubs.
Most American student governments are "official, on-campus organizations" recognized by their institutions. But particularly in California, Minnesota, and Oregon, the "Associated Students, Inc." are non-profit corporations that operate independently of the institution. They derive some of their funding through the sale of services such as "discount cards" that students can use at local establishments.
Average voter turnout in all 4,700 student governments nationwide is in the range of 2 to 4 percent, according to the ASGA SG database. This number is negatively skewed by poor participation overall in SG at the more than 2,000 American community colleges which have larger commuter and non-traditional populations and therefore have less emphasis on traditional student services and programs like student government. State universities and colleges tend to have a 10-15 percent voter turnout, while private colleges often have much higher totals, sometimes into 40 percent or higher, according to ASGA. Online voting appears to increase turnout by about 4% on average. Keeping the polls open for more than a day has little or no effect on turnout.
Most student government leaders serve one-year terms, but there are isolated examples of multi-year officers. This cyclical nature of student government officers often prevents them from attaining real influence on college campuses. By the time student leaders learn their roles, their terms of office are nearing completion.[original research?]
University of Oklahoma
University of Oklahoma’s student government is called the University of Oklahoma Student Association (UOSA), first established in 1969. The student activity fee accumulated is divided into various amounts to be disbursed by a committee made up of the student president, the chair of the undergraduate student congress, the chair of the graduate student senate, and the vice president of student affairs. The student government is currently given just over $600,000 from this committee to allocate to student organizations, pay staff assistants, bills on student government property, and other debts.
The UOSA is divided into four equal governing branches: the executive, legislative, judicial, and programming.
-The Executive Branch is composed of the President and Vice President along with their cabinet of various departments filled with directors, coordinators, and officers. The President and Vice President are elected together on a ticket during the spring general elections. President nominates his or her cabinet and other executive officials to the legislature to be confirmed through the process of advise and consent. The members of the Executive Branch act as the advocates for students by meeting with administration, promoting resolutions passed by the legislature, and ensuring that all laws of the UOSA are faithfully executed.
-The Legislative Branch is composed of two houses: the Undergraduate Student Congress and the Graduate Student Senate. The Representatives of the Undergraduate Student Congress and Senators of the Graduate Student Senate are elected according to their academic district and college. Both houses elect internally their own leadership with a Chair, Vice Chair, and Secretary, which make the executive decisions for their respective houses like appointing committee membership or committee leadership. The legislative branch also considers legislation on a wide variety of topics concerning students at OU. In addition, the legislature considers resolutions concerning issues as diverse as gender neutral housing, smoking bans, safety concerns, sidewalks, parking, and recreational facilities. This branch considers these issues through the use of various committees. One of the most important legislative committees is the UOSA Budget Committee, which is a joint committee between the Graduate Senate and Undergraduate Congress. Together this committee allocates the student activity fee in the form of an appropriations bill.
-The Judicial Branch is composed of one high court and lower courts. The high court is the UOSA Student Superior Court. The court operates as a Court of Appeal that basically acts as our Supreme Court. This Court hears cases that affect the UOSA constitution, UOSA Statutes, Student Organization constitutions, UOSA General Counsel Opinions, election fraud, or any other appeal from a lower court. The UOSA currently has one lower the UOSA Student Parking Appeals Court. This court reviews appeals made over various parking citations.
-The Programming Branch is vested in the UOSA Campus Activities Council (CAC). The Campus Activities Council is led by a Chair, who is elected in a campus wide election. As the Programming Branch, it puts on many events on campus for the entire student body like Howdy Week, Big Red Rally, Homecoming, University Sing, Dad’s Day and Family Weekend, Winter Welcome Week, Dance Marathon, College Bowl, Mom’s Day and Parent’s Weekend, and Sooner Scandals. The Campus Activities Council also has a Concert Series, Film Series, and a Speaker’s Bureau that brings many enlightening speakers, films, and bands for the student body to enjoy. Originally, CAC was the programming arm of the UOSA under the Executive Branch. In 2002, the student body voted and passed a constitutional amendment to make the Campus Activities Council its own branch.
The student government also has an independent student legal office called the UOSA General Counsel. The UOSA General Counsel, the chief legal officer for UOSA, and their associates acts as attorney general for the student government as well as public defender. Students must at minimum be second year law students to qualify to be the general counsel or one its associates. The UOSA General provides legal advice, defends students regarding academic misconduct or grade appeals, approves new student organization, and represents the UOSA on legal matters.
University of Florida
The University of Florida Student Government is the governing body for the students who attend the university, representing the UF's 50,000+ undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. It is one of the largest Student Governments within the United States. The student government currently operates on a yearly $18.2 million dollar budget. The motto is "Building the Pride in Every Gator."
It was officially established in 1909 and consists of an executive, judicial, and unicameral legislative branch. The executive branch consists of a Student Body President, Student Body Vice President, Student Body Treasurer, 4 executive directorships, 8 agencies, 12 executive secretaries, and 19 programming cabinets under 3 cabinet chairs. The Student Body President, Student Body Vice President, and Student Body Treasurer are elected in annual elections held in the spring.
The legislative branch is composed of 100 senators, who serve one-year terms. 50 senate seats are elected each spring semester and the remaining 50 are elected each fall semester. The senators elect a Senate President and Senate President Pro Tempore twice a year—once in the fall, and once in the spring—to lead the Student Senate.
Michigan State University
Michigan State's Student Assembly comprises one half of the ASMSU undergraduate student government, along with the Academic Assembly. At MSU, the Student Assembly has control over student-life affairs, and controls three seats in the University Academic Governance System, as well as 96.5% of the nearly $1.3 million ASMSU budget. The number of representatives per college varies on the population of the college, like the United States House of Representatives.
The ASMSU Student Assembly has five officers and forty-five staff members, with three of those being executive staff. The Chair, Vice-Chairperson of Internal Affairs, Vice-Chairperson of External Affairs, Vice-Chairperson of Student Funding, and Vice-Chairperson of Student Programming are elected each April by the newly elected representatives. The Assembly usually - but not always - votes its own members to leadership positions. The staff members are hired by a Human Resources hiring committee. They include the Director and Assistant Director of Legislative Affairs, the Director of Community Affairs, the Director of Legal Services, and the Director of Student Defenders. Three of these staff members, the Director and Assistant Director of Legislative Affairs and the Director of Community Affairs, make up the E-Staff, a lobbying group that works closely with the ASMSU Academic Assembly Director of Education Policy to lobby the Michigan State Legislature on behalf of the almost 40,000 undergraduate students of Michigan State University.
47 elected seats
18 appointed seats
|Student Assembly Chair|
|Vice Chair for
|Vice Chair for
|Vice Chair for
|Vice Chair for
|Freshman Class Council
Senior Class Council
|Programming Board||Funding Board|
University of Michigan
The Central Student Government is the University of Michigan's central student government. It is composed of the Assembly, the University Council, and the Central Student Judiciary.
The Assembly represents both undergraduate and graduate students, where the number of representatives per college varies on the population of the college. The College of Literature, Science and Arts (LS&A) has almost half of the seats on the assembly (21), since it is by far the university's largest college. Following that is the Rackham Graduate School (10), Engineering (7), Business (4), as well as several schools with single-student representation.
CSG is governed by a president and vice-president who are popularly elected by the student body at-large. Each college at the University of Michigan is given a representative number of seats (based on enrollment figures). Each representative on the Assembly was voted on by popular vote of their college or school. Elections for representatives are highly competitive.
The executive board positions include the President, Vice President, Student General Counsel, Treasurer, Chief of Staff, Communications Director and Chief Programming Officer. The latter four are appointed by both the President and Vice President.
The 25 committees and commissions of CSG accomplish much of the work on the Assembly. These range from the External Relations Committee, to the Peace and Justice Commission, to the Budget Priorities Committee, to the Voice Your Vote Commission. The Assembly runs many successful programs, including Airbus (an inexpensive airport shuttle service); an Off-campus housing website, where students rate landlords and properties; Advice Online, a website with statistical information on every class and professor on campus, and is solely responsible for the University's non-partisan student voter registration and Voice Your Vote activities. The CSG Web site is csg.umich.edu
College of William and Mary
The Student Assembly of the College of William and Mary (SA) is the official student government of William and Mary. It is designed to represent all students at the college, both undergraduate and graduate. At William and Mary, the SA has control of over $500,000 in student activities fees, over $100,000 in reserve funding, and is the primary source of student representation to the college administration, the City of Williamsburg, and the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The SA is divided into three branches, executive, legislative, and judicial, much like the United States government. The executive is headed by a President and Vice President, who run together on a ticket and are directly elected by all students each March. The executive branch also contains many non-elected officials, including a staff led by the Chief of Staff, a communications office, and many executive departments, such as the Department of Student Life and the Department of Public Affairs.
The legislative branch is divided into three parts: the Senate, the Undergraduate Council, and the Graduate Council. The Senate is the upper house; it is charged with writing legislation that distributes student activity funds, expressing the will of the student body, and organizing the internal structure of the SA. Also, it confirms the principal officers of the executive departments and independent agencies. It is made up of 16 undergraduate students (four from each class), and 6 graduate students (one from the five graduate schools, plus an at-large seat). The Undergraduate Council consists of officers from each undergraduate class: a President, Vice President for Advocacy, Vice President for Social Affairs, Treasurer, and Secretary. The Graduate Council consists of officers from each graduate school. Only the Senate can pass binding legislation; however, the Councils may veto constitutional amendments.
The judicial branch is the Review Board, which resolves disputes between all bodies. It functions much like the Supreme Court of the United States, in that it is a panel of justices deciding cases. There are six associate justices and one Chairman, appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate every year.
Finally, there are independent agencies, which serve both branches: the Elections Commission, led by a Chairman and charged with overseeing the successful implementation of elections every semester and the First Year Council, which orients freshmen to the SA. There are also various independent class councils such as the 2008 Class Council, which consist of students who want to help Class Officers plan events; these councils are not officially a part of the SA.
The leadership of both the legislative and executive branches of the Student Assembly are members of the Joint Facilitation Committee, which is composed of the President, Vice President, and Chief of Staff on the Executive side, and the Senate Chair, Secretary, and a member of the Senate Executive Committee on the Senate side. This committee provides overall direction for the Student Assembly and controls property jointly owned by both branches, such as the SA's offices and website.
As of the now, the Assembly is in its 321st session (the numbering represents the number of years since the founding of the College), or its 98th year (the organization itself being founded in 1915).
Student governance has existed since 1908 at Stetson University in many forms. In 1973, the Student Body abolished the representative model and instituted a Student Union Board. This featured a President and his appointed board who represented the Body. In 1981, the SGA was reinstated and has followed a Constitution that has been since in continual existence (though heavily changed).
Currently, the Stetson University Student Government Association (SGA) is the representative body for all undergraduate students enrolled at Stetson University. The SGA does not have the force of law, as the institution is private. The Association is divided into two branches: Legislative and Executive. The Association has direct control over $100,000 in student fee monies, which go to 100+ student organizations and has oversight of $500,000 in student fee monies, which go to other University programming. Further, the SGA has controlling interest in the allocation of the $1,000,000 general student fee allocation committee.
The Legislative Branch Is a unicameral branch composed of a Student Senate. The Senate challenges, creates, and clarifies policies affecting Stetson Students. The Senate is further responsible for overseeing the effectiveness of the Executive, approving his/her appointments to Cabinet positions, and approving the Sec. Finance's budget. The Senate is chaired by the SGA Vice-President, who acts as the Senate President. Senators are elected from Residence Halls and from the commuter population. Also, each campus organization may appoint a Senator. This results in an average Senate of 100 members each year. The Senate has six committees which consider legislation brought before the Senate: Academic Affairs, Budget and Finance, Campus Life, Policy Reform, Residential Living, and Values and Ethics. The Chairmen of the committees and the Senate parliamentarian are appointed by the Senate President. The President Pro Temp is elected by the Senate.
The Executive Is headed by the SGA President who, jointly with the Vice President, is elected in an annual, campus-wide election. The President is responsible for the general operations of the Association. He/She serves as the Student Body President, and is the official spokesperson for the Association and the Student Body. The President serves/ or selects the as a member of several University boards. These include: The Activity Allocation Committee, Trustee Campus Life Committee, Campus Life Committee, Traffic Appeals Board, Honor Counsel Selection Committee. He/She is responsible for implementing the resolutions passed by the Senate. The President does so by meeting and negotiating polices with various University Administrators.
The President's Cabinet consists of:
Vice President: Assists the President in implementing legislation, is the official representative in lieu of the President, heads the Senate & meeting of committee chairs. Also assists the President with the Fall election of Senators.
Communications: Responsible for all advertising, publications, branding, historic record keeping.
Finance: Custodian of all SGA Property, has the sole authority to distribute SGA & SAFAC funds (as directed by the Senate), Chairs the SAFAC and AFAC committees.
Student Involvement: Responsible for outreach and involvement to the Student Body at large. Plans SGA events and is responsible for spending the majority of the SGA budget.
Other: The President or Senate may create subordinate or equivalent Secretaries to those listed.
The President may veto legislation from the Senate; however, a veto may be overturned via a 2/3 vote of the Senate.
The elections for President and VP are governed by a special committee which consists of Senators. A majority of votes cast is required to win the election.
Stetson's SGA is a founding member of the Academy of Florida Independent Colleges and Universities. The Academy seeks to better higher education student governance in the state of Florida.
Student Senate for California Community Colleges
The Student Senate for California Community Colleges (SSCCC) is a "nonprofit association". Its membership includes community college "student body associations" and its meetings are conducted in accordance with the Ralph M. Brown Act. Although the SSCCC is meant to be a community college student ran organization, a fair amount of the members in fact go to four year institutions, and then take one or two classes at their local community college to meet the requirements to be active. The SSCCC is funded, in part, by moneys collected pursuant to a law that permits the establishment of a "student representation fee".
The SSCCC Constitution provides that the SSCCC will "serve as the voice of the students in matters of statewide concern and before the Board of Governors, Consultation Council and all statewide boards, committees, and ad hoc groups". The Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges has recognized the SSCCC as "the representative of community college-associated student organizations before the Board of Governors and the Chancellor's Office".
The name "California Community Colleges" is the property of the State of California. That name cannot be used by an organization without the permission of the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges. By recognizing the SSCCC as "the representative of community college-associated student organizations before the Board of Governors and the Chancellor's Office", the Board has tacitly approved the SSCCC's use of the name "California Community Colleges".
Each community college student body association, and each "organization composed entirely of students attending the colleges of" a community college district, and each "student political organization that is affiliated with the official youth division of any political party that is on the ballot of the State of California" is entitled to have "one voting delegate at a general assembly" of the SSCCC. These delegates, by the operation of California Corporations Code Section 18015(b), constitute the membership of the SSCCC. Most of the student body associations that belong to the SSCCC are organized as "unincorporated associations". Several of the student body associations are organized as corporations, including Associated Students of Grossmont College, Inc., Associated Students of Barstow College, Associated Students of Sierra College, and Associated Students College of Marin.
The SSCCC divides the state up into regions for purposes of representation. There are currently 10 regions, with Region I in the very north of the state and Region X in the very south of the state. The SSCCC Constitution grants each individual region the ability to form their own regionally controlled governing councils and regional officers to facilitate the business of the organization within each respective region. The regions usually meet on a monthly basis.
All of the delegates and other local college student government representatives gather statewide to meet in General Assembly twice each year, once in the Fall semester and once in the Spring semester. The General Assembly meetings usually are held in alternating locations between the north and the south of the state. These General Assembly meetings contain issue and policy breakout sessions and discussions, keynote speakers and panels from policy leaders and state legislators, and culminate on the final day for resolution debate and voting. Prior to the General Assembly and throughout the General Assembly itself, students can submit resolutions for consideration by the delegates. On the final day of the General Assembly meeting, the final packet of proposed resolutions are debated on the floor and put to a vote for adoption. Any student in attendance can participate in debate of the resolutions, however only the recognized delegates may cast votes. Annual elections for statewide office are held each year at the Spring General Assembly.
Student Senate Council
The Student Senate Council is the statewide governing body of the SSCCC and is charged with implementing the resolutions adopted at the General Assemblies and conducting the business of the organization in between General Assembly sessions. The Student Senate Council has 30 members. In order to provide equal representation of the regions at the statewide level, each region elects two Regional Senators who must be enrolled at a college within the region that they are elected. These Regional Senators comprise a total of 20 members on the Student Senate Council. The other 10 members are At-Large Senators and are elected by popular vote of the delegates at the Spring General Assembly (the 10 highest vote getters are elected). Any community college student may run for an At-Large Senator seat regardless of region. The practice of electing At-Large Senators has since been discontinued from the passage of F 2010 18.02 Resolution, which turns the At-Large positions, to third regional senators. The Student Senate Council meets monthly, usually in Sacramento, for rigorous two-day policy meetings.
Each year the Student Senate Council holds its annual organizational meeting in July. The five statewide Executive Officers are selected from amongst the 30 Council Members at this organizational meeting. The Executive Officers are a President, a Vice President, a Secretary,a Treasurer and a Communications Officer. Together, these five Executive Officers form the Executive Committee of the SSCCC.
Much of the work of the SSCCC is conducted through its committee structure. The Student Senate maintains standing, ad hoc, and operational committees as well as other task forces and work groups as deemed necessary. Members and chairs of the committees are Student Senate Council members, however any interested students are encouraged to participate in the meetings.
For more information about the SSCCC, please visit the organization's official website at http://www.studentsenateccc.org.
- Kimberly M. Lewis and Tom W. Rice (Oct., 2005), Voter Turnout in Undergraduate Student Government Elections 38 (4), PS: Political Science and Politics, pp. 723–729
-  Student Government Budget[dead link]
- Stetson University, Library. "Alumni SGA Presidents" (Excel). Stetson Library. Retrieved 28 July 2012.
- Student Government, Archieve. "SAFAC Resolution". SGA Secretary.
- "Constitution of the Student Government Association of Stetson University". Retrieved 28 July 2012.
- "AFICU - Academy of Florida Independent Colleges and Universities". Retrieved 28 July 2012.
- California Corporations Code Section 18020.
- California Education Code Section 76060.
- Ralph M. Brown Act; California Government Code Section 54950 et seq.
- Student representation fee; California Education Code Section 76060.5.
- Assembly Bill 2576 proposed the "student representation fee". That bill was drafted by Gregory G. Hayes, Vice President of the Student Association of American River College. It was introduced by Assembly Member Tom Hayden and signed into law by Governor George Deukmejian. The bill was chaptered by Secretary of State March Fong Eu as Chapter 1238 of the Statutes of 1987.
- Chancellor's Consultation Council.
- SSCCC Constitution, Article II, Section 1(a).
- Section 50002, Title 5, California Code of Regulations.
- California Education Code Section 71025.
- California Education Code Section 76062.
- California Education Code Section 76067.
- SSCCC Constitution, Article III, Section 2(b).
- California Corporations Code Section 18015.
- California Corporations Code Section 18035.
- Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation Law; California Corporations Code Section 5110 et seq.
- Associated Students of Grossmont College, Inc.; California Secretary of State Business Entity Number C0630946. This corporation was initially organized as an unincorporated association and later changed "its status to that of a corporation"; see California Corporations Code Section 5121.
- Associated Students of Barstow College; California Secretary of State Business Entity Number C0588175.
- Associated Students of Sierra College; California Secretary of State Business Entity Number C0377522.
- Associated Students College of Marin; California Secretary of State Business Entity Number C0151199.