By Ben Kleppinger
For the most part, I have enjoyed my experience at Eastern. We have a beautiful campus, a rather enlightened faculty, an awesome staff and many good degree programs. But one aspect of life at Eastern sticks out like a curse word in church: the “flex-dollars” system.Go to any fast food joint off campus and you’re going to pay $5, maybe $6, for a nice big meal. If you’re savvy and eat off a dollar menu or find a sweet student discount, you’re looking at $3 or $4 for dinner.
But if you eat on campus, you can expect to pay at least $6 for anything more than a snack. Want a full-sized meal? In downstairs Powell you’re going to pay $8 – $10.
And refills are more expensive per gallon than gas. I could eat cheaper at Applebee’s, and have all the free refills I want.
But while the prices may be outrageous, they are not the only reason my stomach churns every time a cashier slides my student ID.
Other places overcharge their captive audiences as well – movie theaters and baseball stadiums for example.
But in Eastern’s case there is a huge difference: We are buying in bulk.
When I see a movie, I buy one bucket of popcorn at a time. At Eastern, we buy our flex in huge blocks ahead of time.
Buying in bulk gets you a discount anywhere else you go, but not at Eastern.
We get 5 percent extra when we buy flex, but that’s like getting a racing jacket when you buy a Corvette: It’s a kickback, not a discount.
If I’m going to pay for $500 of my food at one time, I want Sam’s Club prices.
I also want to be able to see how I’ve spent my money.
I’ve received monthly statements or had an online statement available for every credit card, debit card and bank account I’ve ever had.
Why is there no monthly statement or online account viewer for our flex accounts?
I should be able to see what I bought, when I bought it and how much it cost, just like with any other credit or debit card.
But, instead, I give Eastern my money and it conveniently disappears.
I have no way of knowing if my account is being charged for things it should not be charged for.
Other universities have started partnering with local banks to provide students with ID cards that function like real debit cards anywhere the students care to spend their money.
Here at Eastern, we can make purchases on campus, which means all our money is nicely locked up, far away from places with economical prices or different products.
We pay Eastern hundreds if not thousands of dollars ahead of time for the convenience of using that money only at on-campus locations, the blessing of having no way to see what we’ve spent our money on and the benefit of paying $3 for a cup of Jell-o.
I feel sorry for freshmen, who are required to purchase meal plans.
It’s one thing when the school bully Glover introduced himself saying, takes your milk money; it’s another when the bully is the school.
Where does all that extra money go? I doubt it goes toward anything like giving our food service employees better wages, buying higher quality ingredients or renovating dining areas.
Most likely, there’s a smiling Aramark executive somewhere shopping for a 2008 Escalade.