Students dependent on Flex points for off-campus eating will have to learn to love Yorkside Pizza and Restaurant — Bulldog Bucks, the latest proposed incarnation of Campus Cash, will not become a reality any time soon.
Earlier this month, officials within Yale Student Financial and Administrative Services informed the Yale College Council that the University had decided not to move forward with the Bulldog Bucks program, which would have allowed students to use their ID cards to spend money at several local restaurants and on-campus locations using funds from the same University account. YCC officials working on the project voiced strong disappointment with the University’s decision — made in view of growing negative publicity regarding similar programs at other schools around the country.
Although the University has nixed the off-campus portion of the program, YCC officials said they are still in negotiation with the administration about enabling students to use their IDs to pay for printing and laundry, among other on-campus services, although the chances for approval appear uncertain at this point.
After shepherding the project through its initial phases in 2006 and taking ownership of the proposal on this year’s Council, Timothy Dwight College representative Daniel Seifert ’09 said he felt let down by the University’s decision. The proposal, Seifert claimed, had significant backing from the student body: In a YCC-commissioned poll conducted in November of 2006, 91 percent of respondents said they supported the proposal.
University officials maintained that students interested in obtaining a debit card accepted at off-campus retailers and restaurants may do so through a bank of their own choosing.
“Most students already have Visa or Mastercard relationships that can provide debit cards for use at New Haven merchants,” SFAS Executive Director Victor Stein said. “So, one might ask, is there a need for the University to create, at significant initial and ongoing cost, what, in effect, would be a redundant system, especially at the risk of attracting adverse publicity?”
Similar programs at other schools have attracted media scrutiny since March, when New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced his intention to investigate whether credit-card companies responsible for managing the programs were taking advantage of students and sending kickbacks to universities in exchange for preferential treatment. Cuomo’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the status of the investigation last week.
The sums schools allegedly took in were not small — USA Today reported in March that TCF Bank had recently reached an agreement with the University of Minnesota to pay the university $1,000,000 annually for the rights to manage the school’s debit-ID-card program. In exchange, the University of Minnesota would allow the bank exclusive promotion rights for TCF accounts at the campus card office.
Similar deals on campuses across the country have turned heads as unsuspecting students — ignoring the fine print on their debit-ID-account user agreements — got slammed with massive overdraft fees for small-dollar purchases.
YCC officials and SFAS administrators confirmed that the University would have contracted with Off Campus Advantage, a third-party account manager and division of food-services-technology company CBORD, to recruit merchants for the program, develop the necessary technological support and streamline payment from Bulldog Bucks accounts to participating merchants. Merchants would have paid OCA a small fee to participate in the program, and OCA in turn would have paid the University a fee to go toward the program’s overhead.
The fees would not have been exorbitant, Stein said, and the University would not have profited from the Bulldog Bucks program. Indeed, Stein said the program was designed to cover its own costs but not to generate profit. Still, Associate Vice President of SFAS Ernst Huff said the University wanted to steer clear of the program lest Yale be characterized by the media and others as predatory toward students.
“Someone could argue that the University’s benefiting at the expense of students who are using the merchants and paying for the goods and services,” he said.
Although the off-campus portion of the proposal appears dead, newly elected YCC President Rich Tao ’10 said he still hopes to work with Stein to explore options for streamlining other ID-payment options.
“Our conversation revolved around, ‘If not this program, then can we look at possibly integrating the current bursar program with laundry services and printing services onto this card,” Tao said. “[Stein] said there could be a possibility of that happening but not by the fall, and we could talk about that a little over the summer. He gave no indication of whether that could happen — he wasn’t optimistic, but he wasn’t pessimistic, either.”