It’s time to reexamine Knight Bucks

When I first arrived at Calvin, I knew that I would be getting Knight Bucks with my meal plan, but, but I was flabbergasted when I learned that I would receive $150 Knight Bucks per semester. Being an economics major, I was quick to do the math: this would amount to $300 Knight Bucks per year, or $1200 Knight Bucks over the course of four years at Calvin (assuming one maintains the “Calvin Core Plan”). For a freshman class of 736 students, $220,800 Knight Bucks will be issued to first-year students alone this year. 

This is a tremendous amount of money to be spent on coffee and convenience food. Quite frankly, it is too much. College students shouldn’t be forced to spend $300 on expensive coffee and convenient snacks during their freshman year. After the first semester, Knight Bucks should be optional, empowering students to make wise choices with their money.

Let’s explore what Knight Bucks really are. Knight Bucks function similarly to gift cards; they are loans to businesses that are repaid by that business, exclusively in the form of that business’ services. For example, if you buy a Starbucks gift card, you are loaning your money to Starbucks in exchange for the promise that you will be paid back with coffee. Knight Bucks are the same way, with some negative complications.

Are these the coffee-buying and convenience shopping habits that Calvin students need in order to be agents of renewal? ”

First, Knight Bucks can be spent at either Peet’s or Johnny’s (they can be spent on guests at dining halls as well, but this is situational). This means that students have the option of spending their Knight Bucks on Starbucks-esque coffee or convenience food. Are these the coffee-buying and convenience shopping habits that Calvin students need in order to be agents of renewal? 

Second, first-year students are required to loan $300 to these shops during their first year. Unlike gift cards, which are bought by choice, Knight Bucks come with living on campus at Calvin. 

Third, Knight Bucks holders must redeem their loans within the semester, or they will no longer be paid back. In essence, the loan that first-year students were forced to give out is defaulted on. Is this “acting justly?” Additionally, this expiration date, combined with the convenience factor, lead to an increase in relative price that we all experience. Bottled tea costs 25 percent more at Johnny’s and pints of ice cream can be almost twice as much compared to general retailers.  

Viewing Knight Bucks as a weird, forced credit agreement might seem like a stretch, but it is descriptive of Knight Bucks’ function. They are a line of credit upon which Calvin’s external vendors rely. But should they? If these shops only exist in their current form because students are forced to redeem money they’ve already loaned there, should they continue to operate unchanged? 

Proponents of Knight Bucks argue that they provide convenience to students — especially international students and students under the age of 18 who can have trouble getting access to electronic payment methods. They claim that some students, if given the choice, would opt out of Knight Bucks and into hunger. This is why Knight Bucks must remain an option. But after a semester with $150 Knight Bucks, students who want to should be given the choice of opting out. Allowing students to choose whether or not to buy Knight Bucks would be freeing for many. It would noticeably reduce room and board payments, and it would put the edifying responsibility of decision making on students, not administrators.