Residence halls deserve better meal plan options

As part of the housing admissions process, all students living in a residence hall are required to have a meal plan. Unfortunately, the current lack of meal plan options provided by University Dining Services is uneconomic, unrealistic and unfair to residence hall dwellers. An absence of varying choices and the fact that all residence hall students are forced to purchase a meal plan makes this issue particularly troubling.

Presently, commuters are offered seven different meal plan options. Yet, students living in residence halls are limited to four very similar meal plans. The price ranges are extreme. Respectively, the highest- and lowest-priced meal plans for a commuter are the $1,312 unlimited plan and the $220, 25 meals per semester plan. But those in residence halls are forced to choose between barely distinguishable choices, offering similar numbers of meals for similar prices. Respectively, the highest- and lowest-priced meal plans for residents are $1,312 for unlimited meals and $1,155 per week for 19 meals.

Many residents simply cannot eat the full amount allotted by UDS meal plans for a variety of reasons, and when final costs are examined through simple arithmetic, some students are forced to pay an exorbitant price per meal. Commuters are offered the option of very few meals or no meals at all. By not offering an “out” option, UDS forces students to accept an additional cost of over $1000 per semester. Commuters can choose to pay nothing or as little as $220, but residents are required to pay an extra $2,000 per academic year for something they might not use.

Other educational institutions more properly accommodate student needs. The University of Wisconsin-Madison offers a dollar-to-dollar exchange rate for dining halls, and on average students place only $1,000 in their accounts, resulting in savings of hundreds of dollars when compared to the UDS rates. The University’s Morris campus uses a dollar-to-dollar point system in which those dollars are not taxed, meaning students save an additional 6.25 percent. The University’s Duluth campus offers meal tickets that can be purchased singly or in sets of five and 10. Such alternatives meet the needs of students better and provide students an opportunity to save money.

The current meal plan choices for residence hall dwellers do not fulfill the needs of students and at worst are designed to extract the most money from those students. UDS’ system of limited choices and unvarying options instigates cynicism toward its economic motives as well as torward the University as a whole. UDS can eliminate this impropriety by simply offering residence hall residents the same options as those provided to commuters. UDS must offer more relevant options for students living in residence halls and eliminate the disparity between rates for commuters and residents.