Illustration by Louise Leong.

At the end of each academic year at UC Santa Cruz, students line up at cafés and restaurants that accept campus Flexi Dollars.

“A case of Skittles, a large Naked Juice, and a hamburger and fries,” a student might request.

Flexi Dollars are campus currency accepted at various businesses at UCSC. Students living on campus are required to purchase a meal plan, granting them access to campus dining halls. Though there are several options for the number of meals students can purchase, each plan includes a mandatory minimum of $50 in Flexi Dollars.

While they do roll over from quarter to quarter, Flexi Dollar balances under $10 cannot be retrieved and many students would rather spend than fill out refund forms for larger balances.

Some students feel pressured to purchase things they may not have otherwise. David Terrazas, a Santa Cruz City Council member, has met with UCSC dining services to encourage them to adopt a policy that would enhance variety.

“The program would expand locations where the Flexi Dollars are accepted,” Terrazas said. “Businesses already on campus, like Joe’s and Hoffman’s, which have locations downtown, would be a great starting point.”

In light of budget cuts and tuition hikes, students are looking to make the most of their money every way they can. The introduction of Flexi Dollar purchases to local businesses gives students more options to spend before the quarter ends.

2011 UCSC graduate Benjamin Glatt said he supports expansion of Flexi Dollar program to local businesses.

“On-campus dining options are limited,” Glatt said. “Expanding Flexi Dollars to local businesses downtown would have given my friends and me an added incentive to go off-campus and shop at places we had never been to.”

Citing the successes of established programs at UC Berkeley, New York University and Tufts University, among others, Terrazas hopes to see the university implement changes to the Flexi Dollar program.

“It seems to me students should be able to use their resources as they see fit,” he said. “I’ve been speaking with dining services and some of the other policy makers to see what we can do to make this happen for the next academic year.”

According to a presentation made by retail consultant Bob Gibbs, the potential market value for UCSC students is $61.1 million. Council member Terrazas said at the Sept. 29 council meeting that Gibbs said  only about 5 percent of that spending, approximately $3.06 million, takes place at local businesses.

Vice-Mayor Don Lane said he supports the project.

“For me, the key point is UCSC and UCSC students are such an important force in this community in many different ways, including as an economic force,” Lane said. “The program would continue to strengthen ties between local businesses and UCSC students.”

UCSC dining services manager Scott Berlin declined to be interviewed for this article. He said in an email that it is too early for him to speak about the collaboration.

Terrazas said expanding Flexi Dollars downtown would provide a safe method of payment and benefit students with campus meal plans.

“Students are already downtown, and expanding the program would create opportunities for them to use all of their dollars,” he said.

Getting students to spend locally is one of Terrazas’s goals. UCSC graduate Glatt said more than just benefiting students, the potential Flexi Dollar expansion would be good for businesses.

“A program like this would be a great way to help bolster the local economy,” Glatt said. “We have money. We just need more places to spend it.”