Author: Alex Kowalski
KINGSTON, RHODE ISLAND — Most services operating under the watchful eye of the University of Rhode Island accept the URI Ram Account, a student ID debit managed by the Dining Services Department and the CBORD Group Inc., a programming company that designs and maintains catering systems and campus ID software for universities and colleges.
However, students may not be fully aware of exactly how URI spends their Ram monies or what role CBORD plays in it. A group of off-campus vendors claim that transactions hide a 14 percent additional charge. This alleged additional fee is not outlined in the account holder disclaimer.
The only fees on users publicly outlined include a three dollar online credit transferal charge and $50 charge for cash withdrawals for graduates and students leaving URI.
No research into such claims turns up in local news archives or into the matter of the Ram Account’s widespread use among the URI community.
All URI community members are required to carry their school ID at all times. The cards themselves act as keys to personal information, including a member’s full name, ID number, date of birth, and Ram Account finances. According to estimates by URI Dining Services, approximately 6,685 ID holders carry at least one dollar of Ram money. A majority of this group rely on the Ram program for a litany of conveniences like snacks, drinks and printing. In an email from Dining Services Director Steve Mello, he disclosed that, “On a ‘normal week,’ spring semester Ram Account transactions are about $6,000.00 per day. The current cumulative balance of those total patrons is approximately $183,640.” This averages to around $27.50 of Ram monies per person.
On-campus and off-campus vendors adapt payment processing systems by leasing terminals through CBORD that allow a simple swipe of the student’s ID in the place of traditional forms of payment.
However, Ram does not simply move cash through a safe and secure financial medium without fees or collateral costs on vendors. According to Mello CBORD requires a $50 per month lease for Ram Account these processing terminals. He added that URI and CBORD collect nine percent of all sales purchased through the campus ID account at off-campus vendors like those at the Kingston Emporium. URI claims six percent of this, while CBORD claims three.
This sales fee was previously pegged at 12 percent. Though the charges cannot be passed onto Ram Account holders indiscriminately, based on URI policy, business owners hold the right to adjust product prices in general to remain competitive and profitable.
According to Cumberland Farms Area Sales Manager John Wilbur, who oversees 14 locations in South County, account holders shoulder a 14 cent fee per dollar spent. Though the actual figure turned out to be nine percent, he cited this burden as a disincentive for business owners, who must set prices reflective of the charge. Wilbur mentioned this as a major contributing factor in the decision to not implement the program at the Kingston-based franchise.
He argues that the resulting mark-up on their products would have made the store less competitive. Other forms of electronic credit require comparatively low processing costs. Stores that accept credit card transactions for example face a 3.5 percent processing fee. Wilbur argued that the cost was negligible to profit. However, the Ram Account fee, at nine percent, almost triples that. Mello pointed out that the Bagelz coffee and bagel shop in Kingston stopped accepting Ram Account over a year ago after using the program for 18 years.
Adding the Rhode Island sales and local taxes at a combined eight percent means a potential 17 percent additional charge on every transaction.
Electronic credit from a Visa or Mastercard may be swiftly applied to Ram online, by phone or added physically at cash-eating kiosks at the Student Union or library.
Unlike credit and debit however, the Ram system shows some security issues. A lost or stolen ID exploited by a keen passerby may be easily emptied of its Ram Account funds if not reported stolen or lost in a reasonable time frame to the Campus Access Office at the Memorial Union. Funds drain easily from lost IDs due to the absence of a PIN or password protected security system.
Dining Services Director Steve Mello recommends that students who misplace an ID recover a new one immediately to prevent the theft of funds. “We are always concerned about the security [of Ram funds],” Mello says, “But when people come to us, and haven’t reported it stolen for two weeks, that’s when we discover that these [illegal] transactions have been made.”
Ram Account funds range from under five dollars to over $500. For in-person transactions, no secondary identification is required. However, merchants are required to verify a student’s photo on the card with the current card holder.
Ram Account may be used for a variety of small costs, from bitter morning brew at the Robert L. Carothers Library and Learning Commons café to glassware, gloves and safety equipment at the Department of Chemistry.
Specific conveniences, such as printing on the school’s server and fees for student lab supplies call exclusively for the Ram Account. The account may be spent at any vendor or service, such as restaurants and merchandise outlets who accept its use.
Constituents of the University of Rhode Island enter higher education with an immense network of financial decisions to make. Across all such institutions, students sweat quietly through lecture, pondering crushing credit card statements, while others balance cars on their chins in the form of federal student loan debt, or Direct Loans.
To make juggling these various and spinning dimensions of individual expense management less stressful on students and parents alike, universities and colleges often market this debit-style system as a safe and secure alternative to straight cash.
Personal funds funnel conveniently through a student’s ID card. Rutgers University calls it “RU Express.” Suffolk University calls it the “Ram Card” as well. Numerous colleges also offer a Higher One Mastercard, which stores tuition or reward refunds in a separate debit-style checking account. The aim remains the same—to provide an efficient system of student payment for everyday purchases like food, school supplies, and little conveniences.
Mello adds that new security structures are in the works for online transactions with Ram in the form of password-protected campus ID use.