Dan Grover: Eliminate GWorld, eat Chipotle

The new Chipotle on campus has it right. Its burritos are great, sure. And it’s push for sustainable farming? Love it.

But there’s another reason I’m cheering Chipotle: It has yet to accept GWorld as a form of payment.

Chipotle is an outlier on a campus where nearly every food vendor has signed on to GW’s meal plan. Its resistance underlines the fact that the GWorld system creates more trouble than it’s worth.

GW’s meal plan program isn’t sustainable. It’s practically impossible to eat on Foggy Bottom for under $10. If it was up to me, you would be able to put your GWorlds away, pack them in your wallets, under mattresses or toss them in the Potomac.

Tour guides love to tout the more than 100 venues on or around campus that accept GWorld.

But the fact that local businesses feel compelled to accept GW’s meal plan means that prices in Foggy Bottom have become inflated. This struggle is all too present at this time in the semester, when funds run low and 75-cent packs of ramen start to become meals.

Last year, senior John Bennett – an economics student and former Student Association presidential candidate – shone light on this issue in his thesis about the cost of J Street.

In a section regarding the cost of GWorld, Bennett found that because the University takes a cut from a vendor each time a student swipes their card, restaurants that accept GWorld as payment are forced to raise prices in an already-pricey area. When the majority of a vendor’s business comes from students, that cost hurts – and they have no choice but to raise prices.

This hurts local businesses, which is not something a good neighbor like GW should do. The University usually bends pretty far to curry favor with neighbors by providing perks like office space for local groups, helping local schools, paying for landscaping and even looking to expand the University Police Department’s authority to break up loud parties off campus.

If the University really cares about keeping locals happy, they won’t take such a hefty commission from each sale from local businesses, taking money from students and putting it in its own pocket.

Short of telling those who own small businesses within a few blocks of campus to throw their GWorld machines out the window, it seems like the best and most moderate solution would be for the University to scale back their commission fees. Students could still pay with GWorld, but vendors would get to keep a larger percentage of their well-earned profit.

Bennett found that on every GWorld swipe, the University charges an 8 to 10 percent commission fee and a 10-cent swipe fee. The logic behind this is sound: The University behaves more or less like a credit card company, which charges based on the cost of an item so that they manage to keep the pool of money afloat.

But here’s the huge difference: Credit card companies charge, on average, 2 to 5 percent for each transaction. That means the University is charging up to five times what a credit company would charge. This a pretty good deal for the University, which recovers around $800 per student per semester with this practice, according to Bennett’s research.

And the University has created an environment in its region of the District where very few vendors can survive outside of the GWorld circle. The ones that do – like Chipotle and Trader Joe’s off of M Street, for example, are large chains.

So until GW decides to lower their GWorld rates for District vendors, which will in turn lower prices, I’ll cling to my meager supply of GWorld, and angrily grumble in the Chipotle line.

The writer, a sophomore majoring in English, is a Hatchet columnist.

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