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Dining Dollars Offers Alternative Selection For MIT Plastic Cash

By Marissa Vogt
NEWS EDITOR

The class of 2010 will be the first to meet TechCASH’s younger cousin, Dining Dollars, which isn’t quite legal at all campus convenience locations. TechCASH accounts will include a new feature that allows students and parents to earmark money to be spent only on food beginning this fall, announced Director of Campus Dining Richard D. Berlin III. The separate account, called Dining Dollars, can be maintained and accessed just like a normal declining balance TechCASH account, but the funds can only be used to purchase food.

Berlin said that feedback from the parents of prospective students, particularly from Campus Preview Weekend, was one of the main factors behind the decision to create a food-only account. He cited confusion about the TechCASH program from many parents as well as a concern that students might not have enough money for food after purchasing books and other necessities because they do not know how to manage a budget.

Steven M. Kelch ’08, chair of the Undergraduate Association’s Student Committee on Administrative Transparency and Relations, said that student reaction to the Dining Dollars plan has been what he had expected, with some students voicing concerns that the changes might be a step in the direction of having a mandatory meal plan. Other students, he said, view the program as a simple way to address the concerns of parents.

Berlin flatly denied any intention to slowly set the stage for mandatory dining, stating that the Dining Dollars program poses “really no threat.” He also fondly made reference to an old petition against a meal plan, signed by members of the MIT community, that he keeps in his office in a three-ring binder.

Kelch also said that while he personally does not think that the Dining Dollars plan will lead to a mandatory dining plan, he said that he finds the new system with two overlapping accounts to be more confusing than the existing one.

The Dining Dollars plan will be aimed primarily at freshmen, and Berlin said that students may find that they do not need to separate their budget as they become more comfortable at MIT.

Berlin also addressed the possible concern that the program gives too much control to parents, saying that its intent is to make things more clear for both parents and students, and “if that empowers parents in a way that people are uncomfortable with, that was not part of our intention.” He added that it also addresses what he calls “an issue of trust from a parent’s perspective.”

Asked whether he thinks the Dining Dollars plan primarily addresses the concerns of parents or students, Berlin said “I don’t know.”

Like regular funds deposited into a TechCASH account, the Dining Dollars can be used at off-campus locations such as Au Bon Pain and Quizno’s. However, only TechCASH funds can be used at convenience stores like The Coop and LaVerde’s.

Deposits to a TechCASH or Dining Dollars account made online will continue to be subject to a fee, and deposits must be made separately for each account, said John M. McDonald, associate director for enterprise services, which oversees the Card Office. He added that account transfers between TechCASH and Dining Dollars will be available if requested in writing and will not be subject to a fee.

Both Berlin and McDonald said that the cost to MIT of implementing the Dining Dollars plan is minimal, as it does not require any additional technology. They could not give an exact number for the percentage of current purchases made with TechCASH that would be eligible under the Dining Dollars plan, but estimated that these purchases compromise a majority.