UDS requirements unduly tax students

Tuition increases, coupled with a 10 percent hike in residence hall rates for next year, would lead one to think the University would do everything in its power to help students financially. Residence halls, however, are not, and they will continue to exacerbate difficult financial times for the students they serve by requiring them to purchase meal plans often not pragmatic to their lifestyles.

University Dining Services claims mandatory meal plans benefit students because they “ensure access to food.” They argue if meal plan fees are necessary components of housing payments, financial aid can be applied toward them, thus helping students in dire financial straits. But the cheapest plan available for one semester is $1,088, which covers 19 meals per week. Students looking to save money could find adequate food for one semester on their own spending much less money, and those receiving financial aid would no doubt find other ways to apply it.

UDS also claims dining halls provide students with adequate meal times, but for students with jobs, night classes and meetings, this is not always accurate. All halls except Centennial close at 7 p.m., and even when students can utilize Centennial’s 24-hour dining, it is a very limited selection. Grab-and-go dinners are also available, but this operates under the assumption students paying $1,088 a semester are satisfied with a peanut butter sandwich and fruit when they could buy a meal elsewhere.

UDS calculates prices by dividing the total cost of operation by the number of students purchasing meal plans. Thus, students are “paying for various levels of access to the dining facilities, and not per meal,” a financial relationship comparable to a health club; you pay a set cost regardless of visits. It seems as though a University primarily concerned with students’ affordable food access would disapprove of this situation.

UDS argues that mandatory meal plans are essential to keeping costs down because they fund facility upkeep. It is likely the majority of students living in residence halls are not particularly picky eaters; however, it is unfair to require more finicky students to offset the all-you-can-eat option capitalized upon by the less-discriminate eater. UDS asserts there is “a wide range of options to help you balance the cost with the desired access.” However, the smallest number of meals per week available is 14, and this is not the cheapest plan.

If UDS is confident its services are convenient and accessible, it should have no problem making meal plans optional, because enough students should want to purchase them. Not requiring the purchase of a meal plan would make UDS more efficient because it would have to compete with other food venues, and it would be certain to offer students streamlined service with less food wasted and better available options.