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Participatory budgeting addressing student needs

Students voted for campus improvements

Students voted for textbook rental program at Auraria library.
Photo: Marianna Caicedo · The Sentry

Auraria Participatory Budgeting (APB) is a campus initiative that makes Auraria the first college campus in Colorado to implement a project involving students directly in the spending of a grant to improve their college experience.

This Machine Has a Soul, a group of local organizations, have privately funded a $30,000 grant to impact the Auraria campus. Created to demonstrate the effectiveness of participatory budgeting and to inspire a future of giving students a greater voice regarding how they want their tuition dollars spent, APB set out to bring this vision to fruition.

Participatory budgeting is a democratic process in which community members choose how to spend the public budget.

“It has to happen on campus or be something that benefits campus directly,” Roshan Bliss, a graduate political science student and leader of APB, said. “And it had to cost less than $30,000.”

Starting in June 2018, Bliss and a team of student representatives from each institution on the Auraria campus began the brainstorming process by asking students, “How would you spend $30,000 to make campus better?”

The answer came back in the form of over 400 ideas, ranging from free parking to a water fountain. Student-led proposal development committees streamlined ideas into 12 ballot items for students to vote on. 918 student votes later, students can expect seven of the 12 initiatives impacting the Auraria campus.

These student-chosen changes to campus will include a tri-institutionally collaborated mural, a campus kitchen, a textbook rental program through the Auraria Library, and better WiFi. Students will start to see the effects of APB within months, with some changes appearing within the next year.

CU Denver has thus far lagged behind Metro State’s acceptance of the student-led initiative. After hearing the students’ input, Metro donated an additional $11,000 to fund each initiative that would affect the Auraria Library. Other than Metro’s donation to APB, all of the money now used to improve the Auraria campus was not generated by student fees.

APB has given CU Denver students one of the first opportunities to explain how they would want their own money spent, as a recent university report revealed that 80 percent of CU Denver’s budget is collected from student fees.

Cities internationally that use participatory budgeting have an average of $10 per person. If those standards were enacted on the Auraria campus, that would mean approximately $420,000 annually being used from preexisting student fees to meet the needs and requests of students.

The number of students that engaged with APB reached over 1,000, comparable to student involvement with CU Denver’s Student Government elections. With such high levels of student engagement, Bliss hopes that this encourages each institution to both consider students’ requests for how their money is spent and to encourage regular participatory budgeting in the future.

“This is how democracy works. When people have major decisions and they have a major say in them, they show up,” Bliss said. “We gave them real power.”

After APB’s success, organizations that funded the grant are using the APB as a success story to encourage universities to take advantage of participatory budgeting, and even to encourage initiatives that create participatory budgeting throughout the city of Denver.

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