OPINION: We should get more bang for our (flex) bucks

 

(Mariana Duran • The Student Life)

This year at Pomona College, all students living on campus are obligated to enroll in the “Ultimate Meal Plan.” As the name suggests, this provides them unlimited access to meals at Pomona’s three dining halls: Frank Hall, Frary Hall and the Oldenborg Center. 

With a cost of $3,929, the mandated meal plan is expensive. However, before attending the college, many students, including myself, were unaware of an additional $200 cost embedded within the plan: so-called “flex bucks.” Also referred to as “flex dollars” and “$200 board plus” throughout Pomona’s website, flex bucks can solely be spent on food items at 5C cafes, including the Coop Fountain and the Café 47. While flex bucks are a convenient way to purchase a bite to eat, their limited application to food items is problematic, especially during a year when most students have access to unlimited meals. 

To promote the interests of the student body, Pomona’s administration should change their policy to allow students to spend flex bucks on most, if not all, necessities for life at Pomona.

Conversations I’ve had with ASPC members have made clear that allowing flex bucks to be used on some non-Pomona run services like laundry may not be feasible due to logistical concerns. Still, purchasing items like textbooks and school supplies could be. Flex bucks usage should be expanded by as much as is feasible to allow students the greatest amount of choice possible over what they purchase. 

According to Investopedia, colleges use flex dollars “to facilitate students’ purchase of food and snacks under the school’s meal plan.” Being obligated to purchase money to spend on miscellaneous food items has never been ideal, but flex bucks are even less helpful now than in traditional years when students had a choice of how many meals a week they paid for. Now, despite being provided unlimited food from our dining halls, Pomona students must spend the entire $200 they purchased by the end of the semester, or else the remaining balance is forfeited. 

Investopedia notes that some schools offer discounts for students using flex dollars, and that “many on-campus vending machines accept flex dollar[s]” — neither is true at Pomona, which further limits the usefulness of flex bucks.

Further compounding the issue of flex bucks is that many first-years are unaware of them and learned only through the grapevine. Naomi Locala PO ’25 said that she first learned about flex bucks from a friend toward the end of orientation week, but remained confused about them. 

I just had no idea what they even were or what you could spend them on,” Locala said. “And my first thought was, ‘oh, I should get one of my textbooks with flex bucks.’ I was really confused because I didn’t know that it was different from Claremont Cash. I thought it was the same thing, so I thought it was [for] laundry or just anything you needed to buy.”

Additionally, finding an explanation about flex bucks on Pomona’s website isn’t straightforward, especially because it uses different terminology to refer to them interchangeably. 

While abolishing flex bucks may not be feasible, the current policy surrounding the usage of flex bucks should be thoroughly evaluated by the administration and ASPC members. Giving students more autonomy over how they spend the $200 they buy every semester will allow them to spend flex bucks on what best suits their needs. 

Porter Reyes PO ’25 is from Manhattan, New York. He is a political junkie who enjoys internet drama and writing articles about things that irk him.

 

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