Student governments in the United States
Student governments in the United States exist in both secondary and higher education. A student government may also be known as the student government association, student assembly, associated students, student senate, or less commonly students' union. There is one instance of a government of the student body, at Iowa State University. At Yale University, the undergraduate student government is known as the Yale College Council.
Student governments vary widely in their internal structure and degree of influence on institutional policy. At institutions with large graduate, medical school, and individual "college" populations, there are often student governments that serve those specific constituencies. Some student governments have very large budgets; the student government at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) had an annual budget of $39 million as of 2013.
Elsewhere in the world, student governments are often known as "student unions." However, in American English, 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.
Not all American colleges and universities have a separate student government. A number of small liberal arts colleges in the United States use a governance model in which key decisions are made democratically by the community as a whole, with students and faculty on equal footing. Examples of such schools include Marlboro College, Shimer College, and College of the Atlantic. In addition, historically, many US schools followed a "student-faculty council" model, with governance shared between elected representatives of the student body and the faculty.
- 1 Officers
- 2 High School Officers
- 3 Structures
- 4 Responsibilities
- 5 Relationship to the Institution
- 6 Examples
- 6.1 The University of Chicago
- 6.2 University of Oklahoma
- 6.3 University of Florida
- 6.4 Michigan State University
- 6.5 University of Michigan
- 6.6 College of William and Mary
- 6.7 Stetson University
- 6.8 Student Senate for California Community Colleges
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
- 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 Florida Atlantic University, with multiple campuses, elects a university-wide student government president, then elects campus "governors" and representatives serving each specific campus.
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. Only about 20 percent of all Student Governments have a student serving as a voting member of the Board of Trustees/Regents/Governors, according to ASGA's Student Representatives on Board of Trustees Survey from November 2013. Nearly 64 percent of nearly 400 participating institutions of all types and size indicated that they have a student member of their institution's board of trustees/regents. Of those 64 percent that have a student member, 40.83% have a student who has an official vote.
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 manage and disburse the student activities (student life) funds generated by the fees students pay each quarter/semester/year. This usually establishes some authority for the student government because control over money is power and strong influence.
Student government budgets range from as high as $90 million (UCLA) 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. The vast majority of student governments receive their funding from a portion of the student activity fees. 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 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 tend to be 15-20 percent, but can have much higher totals, sometimes into 40 percent or higher, according to ASGA. Online voting is used by 72% of American student governments, according to ASGA's 2012 SG Elections nationwide research study.
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?]
The University of Chicago
The mission of the University of Chicago Student Government is "To further the interests and promote the welfare of the students at the University of Chicago; to foster a University community; to represent the body more effectively before University authorities and the community at large; we, the students of the University of Chicago, hereby establish a Student Association under the following Constitution."
The University of Chicago Student Government is made up of graduate and undergraduate students elected to represent students at the University. Student Government allocates over $2 million a year to RSOs, student initiatives, sports clubs, and other various student-run organizations. Student Government also sponsors initiatives that address pressing issues on campus, from the sexual assault policy to accessibility for students with disabilities. Student Government seeks to play a role in all aspects of University life, from housing and diversity to funding and dining.
The University of Chicago Student Government consists of an Executive Committee, Graduate Council, and College Council.
Executive Committee is the main administrative body of the Student Government. Broadly, the purpose of the Executive Committee is to prepare and deliver regular reports and proposals on matter of policy and action for the consideration of each Council or the Assembly as appropriate. It also executes the policies of each body and performs any other functions delegated to it. Members of the Executive Committee oversee or chair all funding bodies, including the Student Government Finance Committee, Annual Allocations, the Coalition of Academic Teams, and the Program Coordinating Council. Other functions of the Executive Committee include running quarterly airport shuttles, seating students on University committees, representing the Student Association to the Board of Trustees and community members, and responding to issues of student concern.
The Committee is made up of the Executive Slate, the Undergraduate and Graduate Liaisons to the Board of Trustees, the Community and Government Liaison, and the Chairs of College and Graduate Council, all of whom (except for the Chairs) are elected by a popular vote of their constituency each Spring Quarter. Additionally, there is an Executive Cabinet, made up of officers who are ex-officio members of the Executive Committee appointed by the President. The exact population of the Cabinet varies year-to-year but the positions fulfill a variety of roles critical to the operation of the Student Government.
Graduate Council is made up of 17 representatives chosen by the various professional schools and graduate divisions. The number of seats on the Council depends on the enrollment in the division, though every division is guaranteed one seat. Among its purposes are the planning and funding of events that involve students from across the divisions and schools to encourage inter-divisional interaction. In past years, in addition to large on-campus events such as the annual spring barbecue, GC-sponsored events have included bowling nights, First Fridays at the MCA, a discussion panel series, ice skating on the midway, and other events paid for or subsidized by the Graduate Council with its share of the student activities fee. The GC also helps other campus organizations publicize their events to graduate students throughout the University.
In addition to this programming aspect, the Graduate Council serves as an intermediary between graduate students and the administration. As a representative body, it creates a space in which students from the several professional schools and divisions can identify areas of mutual concern and discuss possible solutions. Because of its position within Student Government, it is able to maintain a high level of dialogue with administrators. One of the important responsibilities of Council members is to assist in the appointing of graduate student members to standing committees that cover a variety of issues affecting all students. Many of these are Student Government committees, such as the Student Government Finance Committee, while others function outside SG and throughout the University. College Council
College Council is the primary governing body for the undergraduate segment of Student Government. It is made up of 16 representatives, 4 from each class in the College, in addition to a Chair. CC meets on a weekly basis on Wednesdays throughout the entire school year, and any student interested is allowed to attend meetings. CC plans projects, approves budget requests, oversees appeals, and plans events for the College.
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 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 Branch 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) was organized in May 2006. Its membership includes community college "student body associations" and its meetings are conducted in accordance with the Ralph M. Brown Act. 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 students of a college in the California Community Colleges System may select one SSCCC "Delegate" in accordance with rules that they have adopted. Meetings of the Delegates are held twice during each academic year; once during the fall semester and once during the spring semester. A meeting of the Delegates is known as a "General Assembly". During a General Assembly, each Delegate may cast one vote on each matter submitted to a vote of the Delegates.
The students of several colleges may join together to establish a "Region" of the SSCCC. Ten Regions have been established. Each Region may annually elect three "Senators". A meeting of the Senators of the ten regions is known as the "Student Senate Council". The Student Senate Council may elect a President, a Vice President of Governance and Policy, a Vice President of External Affairs, a Secretary, a Treasurer, and a Communications Officer.
The Student Senate Council may nominate students for appointment to seats on the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges. The Council may also appoint two representatives to the "Consultation Council" established by the Board of Governors.
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- Consultation Council. Procedures and Standing Orders of the Board of Governors, September 2013, section 334, page II-28.