In a blockbuster deal involving local businesses and the dynamic private company Collegiate Services, Inc., the Yale College Council has brought us the Student Savings Club card. The card, a wallet-sized reference guide with telephone numbers, addresses, and special “student savings” for 28 New Haven shops and restaurants, seems great, allowing students to save money on late night pizza, snacks, or even a casual visit to the local chiropractor (how convenient). A closer look, however, reveals useless advertising hidden by a smoke screen of “student savings,” sponsored by the YCC.
The main purpose of the card is not student savings, but advertising. Businesses join the “Club” because the YCC intends to give one of these cards to every Yale student, faculty member and staff member. When a Yale student decides to order a late-night pizza, he can take out the card and have phone numbers and “special deals” in front of him.
Proponents of the card might counter that advertising is harmless and students will save money on food. However, it is possible that participating businesses will raise their prices for two reasons: first, to make up for the student discounts and effectively restore old prices, and second, to take advantage of their increased market power as more students opt for their businesses over competitors. Facing increased demand for their products, businesses can raise prices. These market forces are very real, especially over a long period of time.
Furthermore, many of the advertised “student discounts” on the card had been offered previously, independent of the card. Yalie’s Pizza, for example, boasts 10 percent off with the Student Savings Club Card, a deal that they have offered in the past with a valid Yale ID. Subway offers $1 off all foot long subs, also a deal they have offered to Yale students for at least six months, according to a Subway employee. Equally curious is that Enterprise Rent-A-Car is on the card but lists no special student discount at all. These examples reveal that the card offers little more than advertising with a pretense of special student savings.
Absent from the card are many businesses that give Yale student discounts, such as the Rainbow Cafe and the Owl Shop, a local tobacco store. They are probably not included because, in order to participate in the “Club” and get space on the card, restaurants and shops have to pay “not more than $250,” according to Lisa Dean, a representative of Collegiate Services, Inc. (“Discount cards arrive on campus,” 2/10). Businesses will have to pay again every year if they wish to remain in the “Club.” Collegiate Services Inc. pockets this revenue. In exchange, the company prints out these nice little cards for us to carry around and reference when we want to order a pizza. At $250 times 28 participating businesses, Collegiate Services stands to make up to $7,000 for printing some cardboard advertisements and giving them to the YCC to distribute throughout campus. One might wonder why the YCC didn’t print their own cards and pocket the cash and later use it in some student activity. If they’re going to distribute these cards and do the advertising work, they might as well get money for it.
Also disturbing are the familial ties between the YCC and Collegiate Services, Inc. Casey Moriarty ’05 is a major supporter of the project in the YCC and also the nephew of the owner of Collegiate Services, Inc. On a positive note, Moriarty suggests that Collegiate Services, Inc. may make a donation to the YCC. That is very charitable.
I am all for increased collaboration between New Haven’s restaurants and the YCC. New Haven’s cheap, diverse and quality restaurants are great for Yalies, and Yalies are great for the restaurants. Nonetheless, we should be suspicious of the idea that the Student Savings Club card will make New Haven any cheaper or better for us. On the other hand, the card is good for raising revenue. For someone else. The YCC should either get in the advertising business and make some money, or get out. Alternatively, they could provide a more inclusive (inclusive means free for businesses) guide to prices and locations for good student deals that would benefit both businesses and students. This guide, instead of rewarding businesses that pay relatives of YCC representatives, could reward businesses that offer good deals. Such a guide would serve the Yale community by increasing competition among businesses.
In the mean time we must wonder if the YCC has anything better to do than distribution work for Collegiate Services, Inc.
Sam Taylor is a junior in Saybrook College.