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Cashing in Tufts’ Monopoly Money

News & Features | November 22, 2010

There are few sounds that Tufts students hate more than “beep, beep, beep, beep… BEEEP”. We all know it—the warning that our JumboCash balance has dipped below ten dollars, a feat seemingly impossible at the beginning of the semester. It’s easy enough to blow through this modern-day Monopoly money on campus, but now that off-campus eateries are beginning to accept our IDs, using JumboCash has become that much more convenient—and that much more dangerous .

For the most part, students, the university, and neighboring vendors seem to enjoy the services JumboCash provides. While JumboCash has minor associated fees and may not necessarily increase revenue, thanks to its easy and safe means of transaction, it makes student meal purchases simpler. But does this new cushion for consumerism lead directly to the bottom of your bank account?

This year, several vendors were added to the Tufts University Dining Services (TUDS) Merchant Off-campus Partners (MOPs) program, bringing the grand total to 22. Of these vendors, 17 deliver, which provides students with more dining opportunities than  Dewick or Carmichael.  According to the TUDS website, “MOPs was created as a joint initiative of [the Tufts Community Union (TCU)] Senate Services Committee and Tufts Dining as a way to provide additional food options in the evening and on weekends for students on debit plans.”

While students have been taking advantage of the program since its inception, the recent addition of eateries, such as Tasty Gourmet and Chipotle, have prompted even more students to look off campus for their meals. But as students reap the savory benefits of a more robust MOPs program, are businesses feeling the same way?

“I’m happy we made the transition to JumboCash. It’s convenient,” said Pizza Days owner, Hakki Bengizli. He noted that there have been no real issues with tips being left in cash, as is required by the system, or with transitioning into it. Bengizli also said that he signed onto the system in order to please the Tufts students, who comprise a significant portion of his business. While JumboCash has been a good ally for Pizza Days, the restaurant has not seen a significant increase in revenue since the partnership began. Perhaps this is because the program is still in its formative stages or perhaps Pizza Days’ revenue stream was strong in the beginning.

Brian Rodriguez, the general manager of Boloco in Medford, talked about JumboCash’s evolution. Back when merchants could use “points”, before JumboCash was institutionalized, vendors used an inefficient dial-up system that led to long lines and constant frustration. Moreover, merchants had to keep every single receipt from points transactions. “[It was a] much more complicated system back then,” Rodriguez said. In August, Boloco transitioned to the new system of JumboCash. “I like it; it makes it a lot easier for students,” he began, adding that JumboCash is a safer and easier transaction medium as opposed to cash or credit cards. It allows students to, “just go in and pay for their food.” While Rodriguez mentioned that the new system increased business, especially by eliminating the huge line caused by the original system, the increase was only marginal. While having JumboCash capabilities was worthwhile for Boloco, the small increase in income is probably canceled out by the fees, according to Rodriguez.

Economics professor George Norman commented on the fiscal implications of JumboCash, noting that, “If there are traders who do and traders who do not accept JumboCash then one would expect that the former would gain more student business than the latter, putting the latter under pressure to accept JumboCash.”

This, of course, is quite logical. Students may feel more inclined to patronize an eatery that accepts JumboCash, a currency that is more often than not linked to a bursar account and financed by an even more removed bank account, whether belonging to the parent or the student. As students, we are all loath to spend the money we have saved up from jobs and birthdays; it only makes sense that we would be more inclined to swipe our ubiquitous ID cards. Senior Rachael Plitch echoed this sentiment.

“I think it’s great that a lot of businesses are benefitting because I feel like students have a tendency to think of JumboCash as not being real money,” she said.  “They’re more likely to spent it without really thinking about it.”

Yet some students think otherwise. “[JumboCash] does not feel like fake money,” sophomore Taarika Sridhar said. “It works like a debit card, and, especially for an international student like me, who has to get my parents to send me money from Oman to my account (which can take days!),”

It is almost impossible to quantify the ease with which students spend JumboCash. On their end, it acts invisibly and simply while there are more complications for merchants. Thus, JumboCash might be more beneficial to the former. Furthermore, providing the ability to pay with the same card that gets one into his dorm, music locker, and the MAB Lab is an added perk. The system, however, is not without its flaws.

Meredith Goldberg, chair of the Services Committee, told the Observer that “there is a charge for the interchange of JumboCash and money. So unless… [a merchant has] a large increase in profit margin,… [it] can lose money.”

In response to students who have asked about expanding JumboCash to non-eatery institutions, Goldberg touched on some problems. “Some chains have restrictions,” she began, “for example they are only allowed to be open at certain hours and have to deal with regional supervisors.” Aside from the red tape that comes with being a chain, Goldberg explained that places like Gnomon Copy are unable to accept JumboCash due to copyright issues. She also mentioned that implementing JumboCash can overwhelm some establishments. “A Chinese food place in Medford,” she recalled, “was only on JumboCash for a day because [on that day] so many students went there.”

Goldberg did say that Tufts is trying to answer students’ demands regarding JumboCash to the best of its ability. “Any student who is on financial aid and has the full package, which is any student in the bottom five percent, has discretionary money,” she said, “meaning [he]… can choose to put [the money into]… JumboCash or take it out as a direct deposit.” Tufts seems to understand that there are more expenses than just tuition and room and board and, in order to provide its students with a better way of life, the university should make its resources as useful and accessible as possible.

Sophomore Sara Golkari mentioned a few other problems with JumboCash, saying, “[JumboCash] is really easy to use, easier than a credit card. I think it’s a great thing, but sometimes it’s hard to know what businesses accept it… because they don’t always have signs.” Golkari suggested increased advertising to the greater Tufts community and maybe even expanding to stores like CVS, which is slated to join the MOPs program later this year.

Overall, it seems that students are satisfied with the JumboCash system. “Students always say on the dining survey how much they like it,” Goldberg said. “Especially upperclassmen. It is a way to keep them engaged with the dining services.”

It is undeniable that students from the Hill are considering MOPs an increasingly important slice of campus dining. Nothing will ever replace a leisurely Sunday brunch in Dewick, but with time, we might find ourselves heading off-campus for a weekend recap.