Officials mull over new payment plan

University officials are assessing the budgetary feasibility of a new program that would allow Yalies to make purchases with their student ID cards at more off-campus restaurants and to combine various campus payment options into a single payment account.

Finance staff will meet in the coming weeks to discuss priorities for the next 12 to 18 months and determine what costs might be associated with a new “Campus Cash” payment system, Associate Vice President for Student Financial and Administrative Services Ernst Huff said. The University is better situated to implement such a program than in the past, he said, because of an upgrade it made several years ago to the technology that Dining Services uses to keep track of students’ meal plans. Yale College Council leaders said they believe the plan will increase quality of life for students and make their financial transactions easier.

Huff said the recent technological changes make the program a real possibility.

“I think the timing is better than it’s ever been, in terms of where we place it in our priorities and coming in parallel with student interest in doing this,” Huff said. “The hurdles are going to be fewer than they were three or four years ago because we’ve already changed the dining hall access control system.”

An online survey of 983 students, conducted by the Yale College Council this week, suggested that 92.5 percent of students are in favor of expanding options for using student ID cards at off-campus locations. The results also indicated that 91.4 percent of students are in favor of consolidating the multiple forms of payment — which include students’ printing accounts, laundry accounts, Eli bucks and FLEX points — into one account.

YCC member David Roosth ’09, who helped organize the survey, said the results reflect growing interest in simplifying the various methods for purchasing food and other services on and around campus. Last week, Roosth co-authored a YCC resolution urging the administration to implement the new system.

“It shows the administration that kids would like the current system to be easier and more user-friendly,” he said. “And it shows that people are really concerned about the economic development of New Haven, and the safety issues concerned with carrying a wallet around everywhere when it would be easier just to have your Yale ID.”

The YCC hopes to have the new system in place for the start of the 2007-2008 school year, said Bill Fishel ’08, a former YCC member and chair of the Committee for Campus-wide Activities, who helped devise the idea for the Campus Cash system.

Roosth said he received an enthusiastic response when he met with Huff and Dining Services Director Don McQuarrie last Friday. He expects the survey results to give the YCC momentum in future negotiations with the administration, he said.

Huff said his department’s priorities this year include simplifying payment options and allowing students to use their ID cards at more restaurants around campus. After assessing the financial implications of moving to the Campus Cash system, Huff said, he and his staff will meet with Vice President for Finance and Administration Shauna King and other administrators to discuss the details of implementing it.

“I would imagine over the next two or three weeks we will have definitely decided when and how we might do something like this,” he said. “The big question has to be resolved, and that is, ‘Does the University want to move forward with … a debit system that would offer the potential for more flexibility on the campus and in the community?’”

Fishel said the YCC has been negotiating with owners of restaurants along Broadway to entice them into participating in an expanded off-campus dining system.

“The restaurant owners are on board and would love to be able to do it,” Fishel said. “The biggest thing is that the current processing fee is prohibitively high. With Campus Cash, the administration has compromised on lowering the processing fee, which has attracted new businesses.”

Currently, the processing fee for restaurants allowing students to use their ID cards as a means of payment — such as Naples Pizza and Yorkside Pizza and Restaurant — is 18 percent.

Fishel said Au Bon Pain, Bulldog Burrito and Ivy Noodle are among the restaurants that have expressed interest in joining the new system.

Deputy Provost Charles Long said he was not aware of the Campus Cash proposal, but that implementing the program could present legal difficulties.

“There could be some legal problems involved,” Long said. “Non-profit organizations have got to stay pretty clear of anything dealing with business or profit. I have no idea if there is a problem there.”

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