There’s a scene many freshmen are familiar with: the dining rush at Vista Grande Cafe.
From 6-7 p.m. on May 15, 111 students went through one register at the café, and 110 paid with their PolyCards, either using a meal credit or Plu$ Dollars. One paid with a credit card.
Paying with cash is so rare that when it happens, employees aren’t always prepared.
“It’s a little scary because I’m not used to seeing cash,” said liberal studies freshman Alex Grant, a Vista Grande employee who often works as a cashier. “I have to run back into the (kitchen) to find my supervisor to get her to do the cash, because I’m not allowed to handle it.”
In fact, out of the $21.2 million Campus Dining earned in revenue as of 2012-13, only $2 million — approximately 10 percent — was cash. From 2008-2013, cash payments in Campus Dining facilities fell by 12 percent.
Meanwhile, non-cash payments in the U.S. account for 80 percent of the value of all consumer payments, according to a September 2013 report by MasterCard Advisors. America is also listed among the nations that have a high chance of going cashless.
Cal Poly, however, was slow at adopting this global transition from cash to electronic payment.
It wasn’t until approximately seven years ago that Campus Dining started accepting credit and debit cards, according to Mike Thornton, director of food and beverage operation at the Cal Poly Corporation.
Though students couldn’t use credit or debit cards to pay for their food, they could use PolyCards as an electronic payment method, “because it makes more sense for us to use an internal card, which is the ID card,” Thornton said when explaining why credit and debit cards weren’t accepted as payment.
Back then, students would use cash to buy money for their PolyCards. But credit and debit cards were finally accepted because of an increasing demand in cashless payments.
A new product Thornton is looking at, called a reusable mug, demonstrates how far the digital “cash” trend has gone.
This mug is accompanied with a chip in its bottom that records the number of refills its owner has purchased. A soda machine will read the chip to see if there are any refills left before it releases any soda.
With this sophisticated soda payment method, it could become more difficult to steal soda.
Thornton is looking into this product and is considering bringing it to Cal Poly.
Another payment device is the Square credit card reader that can be attached to an iPhone or iPad. It works on a 3G or Wi-Fi network and allows a cashier to move around while charging people for their meals, instead of helping a long line in front of a register.
Lorlie Leetham, assistant vice president for fiscal services and auxiliary reporting, said Cal Poly is looking into having Square credit card readers at events on campus.
“The demand and the request for having really convenient, easy ways to pay is just coming fast and furious,” Leetham said.
Leetham started working at Cal Poly in 1996 and has seen a transition in payment methods for school fees.
In the past, students and parents had to come to the cashier office to pay for their school fees with cash or checks, or mail in a check.
The school didn’t accept credit or debit cards because it didn’t want to pay for the merchant fees, Leetham said.
Later, the demand for remote payment methods rose and the university sought out electronic payment options.
While students can pay with credit or debit cards at the cashier’s window, they also pay a convenience fee because the payment card industry doesn’t allow a disparity in the payment between a person paying with cash and a person paying with a credit or debit card at the window.
Leetham, however, found solutions to the problem:
- Online payments with credit or debit cards: If a student pays online with his or her credit or debit card, a convenience fee can be applied. In 2000, Cal Poly began accepting electronic payments.
- Electronic check: Later on, the university adopted another payment method, the electronic check or ACH. Students don’t have to cover a convenience fee when paying with an electronic check.
- Now, the school accepts cash, checks, e-checks and credit or debit cards at the window and online.
“As a university, and obviously as a polytechnic university, we pride ourselves in trying to stay current,” Leetham said.
Now, more than 88 percent of Cal Poly students pay for their school fees electronically.
One negative thing about the prevalence of electronic payments is “there are attempts to get into Cal Poly data constantly,” Leetham said.
But Cal Poly students’ credit and debit card information is protected, she said.
“Our policy is to minimize storage of any credit card data on campus,” Leetham said. “For those campus payment systems or processes that require it, there is a separate network that has been set up to restrict where credit card data is entered or stored. We do not take people’s credit card information and store it on our larger systems and servers.”
Another type of payment device coming to campus next year is smart meters, according to University Police Department (UPD) associate director Cindy Campbell.
Currently, if a person wants to use their credit or debit cards to pay for parking, they can only do so at a pay station. With a smart meter, drivers can swipe their cards right at the meter.
A smart meter accepts coins and cards, but not bills.
According to Campbell, the first locations to have smart meters on campus could be the parking lots near Robert E. Kennedy Library (building 35), between the library and Walter F. Dexter (building 34), next to Administration (building 1), near the Recreation Center (building 43), by Career Services (building 124) and by Business (building 3).
In the past, people brought a pocket of quarters to pay for parking if they didn’t want to buy parking for an entire day, Campbell said.
UPD recognized this difficulty and switched to a new policy in which people can now pay for one hour, two hours or more at a pay station with either cash or cards.
“Our goal isn’t to get (students’) money as sometimes people would think,” Campbell said. “It’s basically to offer them different options at different rates to meet their needs for their parking.”