Legislature Eyes Credit Card Vendors

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With their flashy booths and snazzy free gifts, credit card companies have caught the eye of more than just college students this semester.

Both university officials and the state legislature are taking a critical look at on-campus credit card solicitation.

California legislators passed a bill at the end of this summer's session that calls on the state's private and public school officials to "adopt policies to regulate the marketing practices used on campuses by credit card companies," during the last few days of the legislative session. The bill is currently waiting approval from Gov. Gray Davis.

Although the legislation is a long way from UC Berkeley, on-campus credit card solicitation is already an issue of concern to campus officials - in fact, it was a topic at the Office of Student Affairs retreat that Vice Chancellor Padilla hosted this summer, said Richard Black, UC Berkeley's financial aid director.

Black serves as the chairperson of the campus' "Affordability Committee," which was formed to address these and other financial issues.

In addition to recommending that the number of credit card vending sites on campus be limited, the state legislation also suggests that debt educational materials be manufactured and distributed to students. These materials would be prepared by either the university or a nonprofit credit card debt education organization.

The bill also recommends putting brochures in shopping bags at campus bookstores and prohibiting vendors from offering gifts unless the student has first read an educational brochure.

"Whether these measures would be helpful or not, I don't know," Black said. "I'd have to study the proposals."

Credit cards should only be used in cases of emergency, and they are a major responsibility for students who don't have much experience managing money, he said.

"I think students, particularly freshmen, should be very careful before they incur credit card debt," he said.

The legislature has little authority over university policy, but it can make recommendations to university officials.

"We certainly pay attention, even though we are an independent agency, to what the legislature has to say," said Chuck McFadden, a UC spokesperson.

While UC Berkeley regulations prohibit commercial activity on campus, companies can obtain permits from the ASUC to set up vending booths in certain areas.

A study done by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group of 1,260 college students showed that 61 percent of students obtained their credit cards from an on-campus vendor. The study also said the average debt students incur from on-campus vendors is $1,460.

"They want to hook you," said Karen Kenney, dean of students at the Office of Student Affairs.

Credit card debt is one of many incidental expenses that students do not consider before coming to college, Kenney said.

"(The law is) so parallel to what we've been talking about," she said. "We're now further exploring the presence of credit card companies on campus."

The university is also discussing offering campus seminars on money management, Kenney said.

The governor has until Sept. 30 to either sign or veto the bill.


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