Meal plan options need expansion

Students returning to the University face higher tuition costs, expensive textbooks and the inevitable daily expenses associated with being a student. In addition, students living in certain dormitories have to deal with required meal plan options that are comparatively expensive and untailored to student needs.

Residents in Bailey, Centennial, Comstock, Middlebrook, Pioneer and Sanford halls are forced to choose from four meal plans ranging in cost from $1,155 to $1,312. There is little difference between the choices, and the per-meal cost is high. As the novelty of dormitory food wears off, students often begin eating less at the residence halls and rarely use their entire meal plan allotment.

In contrast, students living outside of these six residence halls have eight meal plan choices – including the option of no plan at all. Residents in other dorms and off-campus housing can choose an option that is adjusted to their dining and economic needs.

In the past, the University defended these required plans by arguing that without them, the dining facilities might have to close because the customer base would shrink. If this is true, the University is artificially keeping open dining services that might not be needed. Where feasible, University Dining Services should not be sheltered from outside competition. The student budget is already stretched; continuing subsidized services only intensifies the strain.

Even though UDS has tinkered with this year’s meal plan options, the problem of limited choices remains. More options should be available. For example, both the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Minnesota’s Morris campus offer a la carte systems.

Requiring residents in these six residence halls to choose from limited meal plan options while offering everyone else abundant choices is unfair. Students already face price increases in every sector of college life; the least the University can do is offer meal choices that help students avoid unnecessary expenses and cater to their needs.