Dining-Dollar Exchange to Begin in May

Early next month, students will be able to sell any excess dining dollars to their peers as part of a new program erected last week by the Housing, Dining and Hospitality Department.

At an April 23 meeting, the Housing and Dining committee voted to approve the exchange program, which will allow students to transfer any desired number of dining dollars from one student account to another for a self-selected price. From May 3 to June 6, students will be able to pick up a form from the Hospitality Services building to request such a transaction.

According to HDC Committee member and A.S. President-elect Wafa Ben Hassine, the program is aimed at students who may not be able to use up their dining dollars at the end of the year. Currently, 74.1 percent of students living in the residence halls have used fewer of their dining dollars than the HDC budget schedule recommends, while only 10.3 percent have used more.

“It is a good idea because a lot of students end up leaving the year with a lot of dining dollars left on their plan, and there is no form of reimbursement,” Ben Hassine said. “It’s a good route.”

Sixth College committee representative Parminder Sandhu said students will be able to sell their dining dollars for any price agreed upon by the two parties involved.

“All HDH does is move the dining dollars,” he said. “It’s up to the students to determine the details: whether they will give them away for free or if one will pay the other.”

This will be the first time the option to swap dining dollars has been available. At the end of the quarter, the HDH administration will review the program’s success and submit a report on possible improvements.

“Depending on that [report], we might alter the program to become more efficient,” Ben Hassine said.

She said changes include moving the transaction requests online or allowing students to report to HDH how many dining dollars they are looking to sell or buy — which would allow HDH to match up students for a purchase.

“There are a lot of options available, but at this point, the trial run just consists of two people coming in and signing the form for the transaction,” Ben Hassine said.

She added, however, that the committee is concerned the program may have unintended negative results, such as students pressuring each other into selling their dining dollars.

“The way the pilot program will work initially is two parties will have to go in person to HDH office,” Sandhu said. “Both parties would have to sign the form and there will be some form, of a brief screening with someone from HDH to make sure both students are willing to participate.”

Committee members have also expressed concern that cash-strapped students may sell their dining dollars as a form of income, and consequently eat an insufficient amount. To prevent this, HDH plans to focus its advertising for the program in markets such as Roger’s Place, targeting students who do not use meal points as their primary food source.

“We’ve decided not to do the marketing in dining halls, just in the marketplaces such as Earl’s and Goody’s,” Ben Hassine said. “That way it’s more targeted marketing.”

While the program will provide students with more control, Muir College sophomore Stephanie Fairbairn said she is concerned that the plan does not solve the main problem: students being forced to purchase too many dining dollars to begin with — especially in light of the recent increase to mandatory dining dollars, approved by the same committee on March 12.

“It sounds like a good idea if someone needs more dining dollar and others are willing to share or want to get reimbursed,” Fairbairn, who currently has 200 dining dollars over the targeted amount, said. “It would still be better, though, if there was a choice of plans at the beginning of the year when students buy their dining dollars, so you don’t get stuck in this situation to begin with.”

Still, the swap option is an improvement, said Marshall College freshman Kirche Ray.

“It’s definitely a good idea for students to be able to sell them,” Ray said. “That way, at the end of the year, people won’t have to buy unnecessary toasters and items just to try to get their money’s worth.”

HDH Director Mark Cunningham did not respond to requests for an interview.

Readers can contact Ayelet Bitton at [email protected].