A new initiative by the Georgetown University Student Association is set to provide 1,500 discount cards for neighborhood shops and restaurants, primarily to low-income students, marking the current administration’s first program to make daily student life more affordable.
Students with the wallet-sized GU$Avings cards can receive discounts and promotions at up to 21 local clothing stores, restaurants and entertainment options in the Georgetown neighborhood, including Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers and Booeymonger delicatessen.
GUSA provided cards to the Georgetown Scholarship Program and the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access on Wednesday. All members of the Georgetown Scholarship Program and all students eligible for Pell Grants are entitled to a card, according to GUSA Press Secretary Aaron Bennett (COL ’19). About 600 cards are set to be distributed to other students through academic departments or at GUSA events.
The program is the first effort by GUSA President Kamar Mack (COL ’19) and GUSA Vice President Jessica Andino (COL ’18) to make Georgetown life more affordable for students, a signature issue in their election campaign last February. Mack and Andino called affordability “the most pressing issue affecting Georgetown students” in a pre-election op-ed in The Hoya.
“It’s important that GUSA is alleviating costs in as many ways as possible,” Mack said. “I’m really excited to see how Georgetown students use [the cards] and what different experiences they have, so that this can become a sustainable addition that GUSA takes on every year.”
However, GSP Program Director Missy Foy and GSP Student Board President Emily Kaye (COL ’18) questioned the value of the program in an email to The Hoya, saying the discounts offered by local businesses on the card are meager and largely apply to nonessential luxuries.
“While we’re appreciative of any discount offered to students (and certainly students for whom finances are a significant stress should be front of line), our candid reaction is that local companies could and should do more,” Foy wrote. “We also hope in the future that this discount code might be a help towards essentials like books, food or bedding instead of tanning services and gel manicures.”
Foy also noted that many of the discounts listed on the card were no more than what students could already get with a student ID. For example, some of the cards list a 15 percent J. Crew discount, which is in fact a general student discount available to college students at all J. Crew stores.
“15% off at Ralph Lauren or Vineyard Vines or Brooks Brothers doesn’t represent a major commitment to low-income college students,” Foy wrote.
Mack responded that GUSA explored the possibility of discounts on books at the university bookstore, but was constrained by the university’s contract with Barnes & Noble. Mack also said the student discounts at J. Crew and other stores were included for informational purposes.
Student Government Perks, an internet-based service that compiles discounts, produced the cards for a fee of about $2,000, which was paid for with funding from the Division of Student Affairs, GUSA and the Office of Advancement.
According to GUSA Deputy Chief of Staff Javier Melendez (COL ’19), who worked on the discount cards program, the cards target the costs that students face off campus — a concern in the Georgetown neighborhood, where food, groceries and entertainment are notably expensive. These everyday expenses can cause financial strain from lower-income and middle-income students alike, Melendez said.
“It takes a very high family income in order to have enough financial means to casually go through a Georgetown experience without it being a financial burden on the family,” Melendez said.
Mack first heard about the discount cards from the student body presidents of Catholic University and the University of Missouri–Kansas City, who’d seen success with discount card programs at their own schools. They met at a June conference hosted by the National Campus Leadership Council, a national organization of student body leaders.
“When Georgetown interacts with more student governments, more ideas come to fruition,” Melendez said. “This shows that there are small steps we can take to make student life more affordable.”
This article has been updated.