Student Government Association suspended the launch of its off-campus meal plan program this summer after Sodexo closed its Off-Campus Solutions division after years of coordinating with SGA, according to Dean of Student Affairs Mark Davis.
Sodexo contacted Davis in the spring after the bank supporting and authorizing its prepaid card venture informed them that it was exiting the prepaid card industry due to new regulations and credit card transaction fees. Sodexo delayed the program’s spring release while it attempted to search for another bank sponsor.
OCS was unable to find a cost- and effort-efficient alternative and informed Davis that they would be officially terminating business relations with Pepperdine as of June 30.
Without OCS, SGA was left at a standstill. Students still desired an off-campus meal point program, yet there didn’t seem to be any viable options for offering one.
“As an upperclassman living off campus, it’s not as practical to have an on-campus meal plan,” senior Stephanie Spanier said. “I spend most of my time off campus, and I would be much more likely to purchase meal points that better fit my lifestyle.”
According to Davis, Pepperdine’s biggest struggles regarding an off-campus meal point program are its location and size.
“Most schools that have off-campus meal points have the volume to make the program more attractive to both students and local businesses,” Davis said. “Unfortunately, our Malibu campus isn’t close to major food chains that support the program, and we don’t have the number of students to make the associated costs attractive to local restaurants.”
Over the summer, College Bounty, a start-up company run by Pepperdine seniors Onur Sahin and Dujon Smith, contacted SGA and presented a plan to bridge the gap between Pepperdine students and local off-campus vendors.
Sahin and Smith’s proposal introduced College Bounty prepaid Visa debit cards that students could use in various restaurants, as well as retail stores, in the Malibu and greater LA area. According to Smith, the cards would not only provide the option of paying ahead for off-campus food, clothing and other products, but would also give access to student discounts.
“As of right now, there are between 750 to 1,000 vendors in the LA area who offer student discounts, but students don’t always know about them,” Smith said. “Bounty hopes to help fix that.”
Spanier said she believes offering discounts is a great idea for both students and businesses since it would save students money and provide businesses with more customers.
College Bounty cards also help bypass one of the biggest financial hurdles that SGA faced when working with OCS: purchasing Pepperdine ID payment systems.
Smith said that since College Bounty cards would be Visa debit cards rather than student ID cards, the vendors connect to the program using their current payment systems rather than purchasing new machines specifically geared toward student IDs.
This cuts costs for the individual companies involved, as well as SGA, who Davis said pledged to purchase the machines for the first five businesses to sign up last year and is considering doing so in the future if need be. Without the financial burden, vendors may be more inclined to partner up with College Bounty.
“We’ve reached out to a few Malibu merchants already and they’re really supportive and excited to be a part of it,” Sahin said. Having already received a positive response from hyper-local vendors such as Howdy’s, Jon’s Market and Radio Shack, Sahin and Smith will be focusing on reaching out to approximately 150 more potential vendors in the Malibu and Calabasas area.
Smith also said that the College Bounty cards wouldn’t interfere with Sodexo, but rather supplement the current meal plans in order to give students a wider variety of options.
Students would still be able to purchase their meal plans for on-campus meals through their housing contracts, yet would also have the option of adding money to a separate off-campus account.
College Bounty also differentiates itself by coordinating with vendors to offer discounts, rather than following Sodexo’s example of cutting sales tax, according to Smith.
Smith said a possible frequent-flyer mile system that would allow students to accumulate credit for flights by using their College Bounty card is also in the works. For each dollar spent at one of the off-campus locations, the student would earn points that could be converted to frequent flyer points for airlines, which would be a potential draw to out-of-state students who fly home during breaks to see their families.
While Davis said the SGA executive board is still working out the details and considering the feasibility of College Bounty’s offer, Sahin and Smith are continuing to work alongside SGA and Housing and Residence Life to create and execute an off-campus meal point system and develop new aspects that appeal to both local vendors and students.
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