SCHULMAN: Vanderbilt needs to stop price gouging

Markups for on-campus expenses are diametrically opposed to Vanderbilt’s commitment to financial inclusivity.


Max Schulman , Editorial Director

A few weeks ago an Econ 1010 test snuck up on me. The morning of, I realized that I didn’t have a calculator. I ran to the Rand Munchie and picked up a TI-30X scientific calculator. I was anticipating about a ten dollar charge – prices on Amazon for similar calculators range from about nine to fifteen dollars. I was unpleasantly surprised when I swiped my Commodore Card and a figure twice what I anticipated popped up on the cash register display: twenty-two dollars.

This isn’t an isolated incident. Essentials at Vanderbilt, from school supplies to food to personal hygiene products, regularly cost much more than would be anticipated in a competitive marketplace. Just take the example of yogurts. Junior Dan Gulotta told me, “I think it’s ludicrous how a single yogurt is 2.99 at Munchie but a four-pack at any reasonably priced store is less than that. It’s literally like a 300 percent markup.”

I know the knee-jerk reaction to such complaints, because I get them all the time: It’s just a few bucks here and there – so what? I’d resonate with such a complaint if I were talking about upcharged food prices at Predators games. But Vanderbilt’s price markups are fundamentally different: I live on campus, whereas I go to Bridgestone. I can eat before I go to a game or a concert; I can’t avoid costs on campus. And while markups on calculators and yogurt don’t seem like a huge deal to a lot of people, they create a lot of stress for students who aren’t in the most financially stable situations.

My dad lost his cushy Manhattan job a few years back, so my family no longer has a stable employer-based health insurance program to rely on. My mom is buying insurance on the private market for $30,000 a year while my dad had to enroll in Medicare and Social Security. My family needs Vanderbilt’s help to get me through college. I am so thankful for Opportunity Vanderbilt, which has allotted my family largely sufficient need-based financial aid so I can afford to go here. This program helps manifest Vanderbilt’s status as a leader in financial inclusivity. Unfortunately, this commitment to meeting financial needs stops once a student walks on campus.

The worst part is that this price gouging isn’t even a good way for Vanderbilt to increase its revenues! Just a quick glance at the 2018 Vanderbilt Financial Report reveals that profits from such auxiliary sales make up a tiny percentage of Vanderbilt’s money flow when compared to endowments, tuition and grants and contracts. 

I currently have $144 in my Chase Account. A few markups on food and folders are often the difference between a night out and a night in. While a lot of kids at Vandy don’t have to worry about such costs – nearly sixty percent of students come from the top ten percent of income earners – there are plenty of people like me who do. Vanderbilt shouldn’t forget about us.

Maxwell Schulman is a junior in the College of Arts and Science. He can be reached at [email protected]