In 2016, the University ditched its dining hall, J Street, and moved to a more freeform GWorld dining dollars policy that allowed students to spend their money on select restaurants and supermarkets on and around campus. The change allowed students to have more say in where they are spending their GWorld dollars, but the system is still an inconvenience for students who budget.
Leftover funds from one semester are rolled over to the next, but students are not refunded their remaining GWorld balance once they graduate. This means students will still lose out on funds even if they save money every semester.
The University’s no-refund policy confines students to the meal plan and forces them to spend cash they may not need to drop each semester. Students have a right to the money they save on GWorld. The University should allow students to refund their GWorld once they graduate or at least be able to use the remaining funds to pay off debt.
At the start of each semester, students who live in undergraduate housing are required to purchase a dining plan worth either $2,375 for residences without an in-unit kitchen or $1,525 for residences with a kitchen. This amount is more than enough to comfortably feed myself for a semester. With $2,375 last semester, I only spent about $1,450, leaving me with $925. If this trend continued for four years and I remained in a residence without an in-unit kitchen, I would have $7,400 left over by the time I graduate.
I would technically not lose access to the money remaining in my account immediately after graduation because the account remains active even after students leave campus. But GWorld can only be used at GWorld merchants – which are located in and around Foggy Bottom – and I plan to move away from the District after I graduate. Traveling across the country to buy groceries with my GWorld balance is not practical and I would eventually lose access to the account after three years of inactivity. D.C. law states that remaining GWorld balance is “abandoned property” that must be given to the city government. This is spectacular fiction. Students are not abandoning thousands of dollars – the money just becomes unusable when they move away from D.C.
GWorld also confines students to expensive or inconvenient dining options, contributing to food insecurity. Refunding students when they leave GW will help alleviate some of the most frustrating problems with GWorld, like limited access to affordable groceries. GWorld prevents students from spending their money on cheaper options, like Trader Joe’s and the Market at Colombian Plaza, and forces them to shop for groceries at relatively expensive stores like Whole Foods. Students are deterred from using any food service outside of GWorld because they need to spend all of their funds before they graduate. If students could take back their funds post-graduation, they could feel more comfortable about shopping at cheaper vendors because they will eventually receive unused GWorld money.
These issues would go away if students get a refund at the end of their time at GW. Students would be free to use money in the most efficient way knowing that GW will not keep their remaining GWorld funds after they graduate. Changing the refund policy would incentivize students to budget more efficiently and push students to minimize expenses for themselves. If officials want to do more to alleviate food insecurity and want students to have more options and spend their money wisely, then they should refund students with leftover GWorld.
Sam Swinson, a freshman majoring in political science, is an opinions writer.